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Georgia Tech Football: NFL Draft Scouting Report - WR/TE Darren Waller

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Today we'll take a look at Georgia Tech's most heralded prospect in the 2015 class, Darren Waller

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

College Career

Year Rec Yards Avg Long TD
2014 26 442 17 55 6
2013 17 367 21.6 72 3
2012 8 162 20.3 63 0

At first glance, the numbers don't look very impressive at all. Darren Waller failed to eclipse 1,000 yards over the course of this entire career, with his best year resulting in at a paltry 442 yards. The numbers don't tell the entire story of Waller's career, however. He initially struggled to adjust to the college game, and wasn't a significant part of the offense until 2013. However, he was still the number two receiving target behind Deandre Smelter by a large margin. Much like Synjyn Days, Waller only put up big numbers for part of his final season after in injury opened the door for him to be the go-to guy. Also, like Days, Waller stepped up big. After an injury to Smelter in the regular season finale, Waller lit up the postseason with two huge games. His stats from those games are shown below:

Opponent Rec Yards Avg Long TD
Florida State 5 73 14.6 25 1
Mississippi State 5 114 22.8 41 1

Waller came up big in both of these games, especially the Orange Bowl. The receptions were limited in both games, but his catches went for big gains. The big play potential is what has the NFL interested, but there is a risk involved. As I stated in the Days scouting report, there is a risk involved in drafting a player who only put up great numbers for a short period of time. With only two big games in his entire career, Waller may be the epitome of this type of gamble.

Combine Results

Waller was the only Georgia Tech prospect to participate in drills at the combine, and he was able to greatly improve his stock in the process. I've always thought of Waller as a "poor man's Kelvin Benjamin" given the similarities in their strengths and weaknesses coming into the draft. Both had limited production during their careers, had great size, and were considered raw, lacking the necessary route running techniques. In addition, both had questionable effort and concentration. at the college level and were considered high risk. What made Benjamin more highly regarded was his catch radius. He was able to make ridiculous catches far away from his body, something Waller hasn't shown. Benjamin also had more production during his senior year than Waller. Due to the similarities, I compared their combine numbers.

Player Height Weight (lb) Arm (in) Hand (in) 40 Yard Dash (s) Vertical Jump (in) Broad Jump (in) 3 cone (s) Short Shuttle (s) Long Shuttle (s) Bench Reps
Darren Waller 6'6" 238 33 1/4 9 4.46 37 125 7.07 4.25 11.35 12
Kelvin Benjamin 6'5" 240 34 7/8 10 1/4 4.61 32.5 119 7.33 4.39 12.08 13

Tools, tools, tools. Waller's got more of them than your local Home Depot. These numbers are ridiculous, and far better than Kelvin Benjamin's numbers from a year ago. He's taller, faster, and had more burst at the combine. Waller's long shuttle was one of the best at the Combine. These numbers show he has the athleticism to run the entire route tree and gain separation, even if he has limited experience doing this in games. Waller's arms aren't quite as long as Benjamin's, and his smaller  hands will only exacerbate concerns about drops at the next level. However, the numbers overall show tremendous upside that will entice teams to take the a risk in drafting him.

Film Study

This film study will primarily focus on the games where Waller had the highest volume of work: Florida State and Mississippi State, but there will be clips from other games scattered in to provide examples of Waller's traits.

Strengths

Sideline Awareness

Waller shows good awareness of both where his feet are and where the sideline is. There are several plays where he shows the presence of mind to get one or both of his feet down on sideline catches, making him an even more reliable target for Justin Thomas. This is a great trait to have for catches in the end zone, where "toe-tapping" is often required in order to catch the ball in close coverage. Waller's great sideline play against Georgia Southern shows off his ability. It's simply a great catch. Thomas put the ball where only Waller could get it, and Waller made sure he came down with it.

Size

Ok, so size is definitely more of a measurable than a film strength, but the way in which Waller uses his size is what makes it a strength. At 6' 6 5/8", Waller has ridiculous height that will cause severe match up problems no matter where he is placed on the field. Against corners, he uses his size to shield the defender from the ball and uses his height to go up and grab the ball at a higher point than any corner could hope to reach. If the ball is thrown right, it's almost unfair. This trait is great for the red zone, as it allows for the QB to throw jump balls, trusting that his receiver will come down with the ball or draw pass interference. One of the simplest and best representations of this ability came against Georgia. Waller runs into the end zone, turns around and boxes the corner out with his body, he then climbs the ladder to catch the ball at its high point. The corner can't do anything but watch Waller score the touchdown.

Physicality

At almost 240 lbs, Waller is difficult to bring down. Most cornerback prospects hover around 200 lbs, so Waller will be able to use his extra bulk to beat smaller corners for contested catches. This is another trait that is valuable in the red zone, as there isn't a ton of room to gain separation on a short field. These first 2 strengths will make Waller an extremely dangerous threat that teams will covet. "Matchup Nightmare" is a football buzzword that has become more and more heavily used to describe players in recent years. Waller certainly seems to fit the bill. In this play from the Virginia game, Waller goes up for a fade route in a fashion similar to the previous clip, but has to fight for the ball this time. He still comes down with it.

The next play came from the ACC championship, and was one of Waller's best plays in a Georgia Tech uniform. He uses his strength to break away from FSU CB PJ Williams, a highly regarded prospect, and takes it to the house. This isn't Williams' best tackle attempt, but the size and physical mismatch are evident in this play.

Deep Threat

Waller displays surprising speed for his size, clocking in at 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Combine. This combined with his height make him a fantastic deep threat. He doesn't quite have the speed to really burn NFL corners, but has just enough speed, and his size and physicality will still make him incredibly difficult to defend down field. If he can get any separation whatsoever, he'll be able to easily high point the ball once it gets to him. Waller's long touchdown from the Orange Bowl will provide a good demonstration. Waller beats the cornerback deep, and all the defender can do is hold on for dear life. Even though the holding prevented Waller from gaining good separation once the ball arrived, he still went up and caught the ball where the defender had no hope of breaking up the play.

The deep ball is another means by which Waller is a "Matchup Nightmare." If he's placed outside, he can beat the corner deep in man coverage. If a safety is used to assist in covering Waller, then that takes attention away from the middle of the defense. When Waller is lined up on the inside, linebackerss have no business covering him, and bringing a safety down to do so leaves 1-on-1 opportunities for receivers on the outside. No matter what you do, you can't win.

So Darren Waller is the perfect WR prospect who is absolutely impossible to cover and will be the next coming of Calvin Johnson in the NFL. Right? Right? Guys? Well, not really. The strengths show an intriguing promise that has NFL teams interested, but there are some serious flaws to Waller's game that he will need to address in order to reach his full potential.

Weaknesses

Motor

When watching film, Waller noticeably takes some plays off. Most of these occur when he is not the primary target or is not blocking on the play side, but the lack of 100 percent effort will not sit well with teams. His lack of effort could telegraph the play to opponents if they recognize a pattern. In addition, not blocking on the backside could allow his man to make a play in pursuit. Waller will probably get grilled about this in interviews with teams, and will need to show teams that he intends to up his effort level as a professional.

Run Blocking

At Waller's size, one would expect this to be a strength, but he is a surprisingly poor run blocker. Waller's blocking technique involves using his body to shield the defender from run plays. Sometimes this works, but if he used proper technique he'd be using his hands to drive the corner down field. Considering his size, this is something that could likely be coached into him. Waller also struggles to find his assignment while blocking and occasionally whiffs horribly. Revisiting the great Synjyn Days run from the Orange Bowl, I was struck by how badly Waller missed his assignment. If he blocks properly, Days has to make one less man miss.

When I saw this play on film, my first thought was "What are you doing Darren?" This is another coachable trait, but it means Waller will have a LOT to work on in his run blocking. Which isn't good because he also needs to work on.....

Tracking the Ball

Yet another thing that came up in the Orange Bowl was the fact that Waller noticeably slows down when tracking the ball overhead. By doing this, he inhibits his ability to go for the deep ball, which is one of his strengths. In order to reach his full potential as a deep threat, he'll need to fix this. It's another coachable trait, but these coachable traits are adding up, and increase the risk involved with drafting him. Waller does this most notably during the Orange Bowl, where he was unable to catch up to a deep pass from Justin Thomas despite getting behind the entire defense. He also slowed down before the defender grabbed him on his great deep touchdown from the previous video, but still made the catch.

YAC(Yards After Catch)

Despite his great touchdown from the Florida State game, Waller isn't very good at getting YAC. He lacks the short field quickness and fluid hips required to make defenders miss in the open field, and thus was never used on screen plays or reverses. There were only two screen plays during the entire Orange Bowl, and the both happened to be thrown to Michael Summers for this reason. This is the weakness Waller will be least able to correct, so he will have to be utilized in ways that are best suited to his strengths, just as he was while at Georgia Tech.

NFL Fits

Kansas City Chiefs

I'm sure every Chiefs fan is tired about hearing how their wide receivers didn't score a single touchdown in 2014. It's an incredible stat, and one I'm sure the front office will be trying to correct. Adding someone like Waller could take the pressure off of TE Travis Kelce and RB Jamaal Charles in the red zone, and could help to ease the loss of Dwayne Bowe. The Cheifs did sign Jeremy Maclin this offseason, but Waller could add size to their receiving corps and complement Maclin well.

Atlanta Falcons

This is an outcome many Tech fans would love to see, and it could definitely happen. The Falcons have not properly replaced Tony Gonzalez since his retirement, and Waller could be the guy. I could see him playing either tight end or wide receiver here. Julio Jones is a great receiver, but having another red zone threat would help take some of the pressure off. Roddy White isn't getting any younger either.

New Orleans Saints

With the shocking trade of Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, Drew Brees needs some help. Graham was a touchdown machine his entire time in New Orleans and needs to be replaced. Marques Colston will be reaching the end of his career in the next few season as well. On top of that the Saints traded away Kenny Stills. Problem is, the Saints have more pressing needs on the defensive side of the ball that they will need to address in the early rounds. This may make Waller a prime target in the mid rounds, where he'll provide great value.

New England Patriots

This one would be interesting. Before Aaron Hernandez was arrested on murder charges, the Pats loved to run two tight end sets, and did so with great success. It's now more of a one many show starring Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots could really look at Waller or someone similar to bring back the capability they had before.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns have reportedly met with Waller, and this would be a great fit. They lost two big weapons this off season in Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon, so they have a big need at WR. They signed Dwayne Bowe, but he is a temporary solution who could cover Waller's receiving duties while he develops. Waller could be either the deep threat or receiving TE the Browns need, so his versatility could be enticing.

Verdict

Drafting Waller may be the definition of gambling on a late-blooming prospect. He has all the tools to make it as a WR or TE at the next level, but really needs to be develop so he can shake some of his bad habits. Whoever drafts him will have to be patient with his development and use him to his strengths. Another physical freak WR from Georgia Tech, Waller and fellow prospect Deandre Smelter have an excellent shot to join the ranks of Demaryius Thomas and Calvin Johnson as big, physical receivers in the NFL. Wide Receiver U indeed.

Draft Projection: Rounds 4-5