Las Vegas Raiders Tight End Darren Waller Has Found a Home in Sin City
Heading into his fourth season with the Raiders, the 29-year-old has emerged as one of the best and most valuable members of the roster in Las Vegas
After missing five weeks with a knee injury and a positive COVID-19 test last season, Raiders tight end Darren Waller made his return to the field for his team’s dramatic overtime win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 18 on Sunday Night Football, a victory that secured Las Vegas’s spot in the postseason the following weekend.
Though the underdog Raiders ended up losing in the opening round of the playoffs in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals that came down to the wire, Waller’s first career playoff game was a good one, as he led the Raiders in receiving with seven catches and 76 yards on 12 targets from Vegas quarterback Derek Carr. Entering his seventh season in the NFL and third in Las Vegas with the Raiders after spending a little more than a year with the franchise before the move from Oakland, the 29-year-old calls the experience of making the playoffs “an appetizer” for what’s to come in the ultra-competitive AFC West.
“I feel it should be a special season with the talent that’s in place, especially on the offensive side of the ball. There are bigger things to come if we stay on top of our business. There are still a lot of things that we need to improve on,” Waller tells InsideHook. “It’s not guaranteed that you can get back to the postseason, but we can as long as we’re in position. We’re good enough to make it happen. I’m not really into saying we’re gonna do a certain thing. I just know that we have what it takes to go wherever we wanna go. So it’s just about staying present with each other.”
Perhaps it sounds a little curious to hear an NFL player talk about staying present, but it really shouldn’t with Waller, who says at least 75% of the interactions he was with people he doesn’t know are related to fantasy football, as he has a different perspective than many of his peers. A recovering addict who battled substance abuse issues earlier in his career (which included a season-long suspension in 2017 when he was with the Ravens), Waller now oversees The Darren Waller Foundation, a Vegas-based organization that provides support to local youths and their families during their treatment and recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol.
“That’s what I’m passionate about outside of football and I’m just trying to do my part. It’s a community that needs a lot of help on the addiction front,” Waller says. “I’ve also learned that there’s a lot of great recovery, too. There are a lot of great people I’ve formed friendships with in sobriety who have allowed me to go into spaces and just be a human being. I really appreciate them for that.”
Waller, who won’t even take painkillers anymore to treat the aches and bruises that come from playing pro football and instead turns to the relief offered by Icy Hot’s new PRO line (“Pro-level effort needs pro-level recovery,” he says), has made it a priority to try to use his experiences off the field to inform how he interacts with his younger teammates.
“I take how I carry myself on a day-to-day basis seriously. I don’t have to give a Ray Lewis speech to be impactful as a leader. I just try to keep it real in a positive way,” he says. “One of the most important things for me is to try to make the people around me better, not make myself look cool. Going through my recovery, I feel pretty much all the problems that came with it were because I was so self-centered. It was all about what I could get or how I could change the way I felt. Now I aim to give to other people and the world and not just take all the time. One of the best ways for me to do that is to show up for other people and not ask for anything in return.”
Now an elder statesman on the team despite being months short of his 30th birthday in September, Waller is embracing his new role, his new city and his new life calling Las Vegas home. “Time goes by really fast,” he says. “When I got to the Raiders in 2018, there were five games left in the season and the team was basically having open tryouts. Now there are big expectations and the talent is there for us to accomplish big things. It’s cool to reflect back on being part of that whole process. It’s pretty gratifying to think about. This is a great community for whatever spiritual journeys people are on. There’s so much more than the madness that happens on the Strip.”
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