Why Darren Waller is ahead of George Kittle

Darren Waller better than George Kittle?

By: Jeremy Trottier

The top tight end race has been somewhat dominated by a particular Kansas City Chief for a while, that being Travis Kelce, as many would agree.  The next two to three become a little murkier after that and really are up to the respective opinions of who is asked.  The two that most would consider being the “next in line” of sorts would be Darren Waller of the Las Vegas Raiders, and George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers.  With that said, here is why Darren Waller wins the battle of the west coast tight ends.

Dependability At High Volumes

One of the first things you really need in a receiving tight end is consistency and reliability, you need them as a safety blanket of sorts to go up and get catches at a high rate.  Let’s compare the two prime seasons of these tight ends, for example, George Kittle being 2018, where on 136 targets, despite having more yards at 1377, he had a significantly lower catch rating at 64.7%, while Darren Waller in his prime season being 2020, had a whopping 73.8% catch rating on 145 targets for 1196 yards.  

Even if you do not want to just look at one season and want to take all their seasons combined, despite this being relatively scaled as Waller has only had high volumes in 2019 and 2020, Waller still has the higher average catch rate at 73.9% compared to Kittle’s 71.5%, which shows the capability of Waller to continually do this so far in his career.

Sustainability and Injuries

The biggest part of Kittle’s game is his power, and this is fantastic for breaking tackles and such, but really puts him in harms way in terms of injuries.  To compare Waller’s and Kittle’s last two seasons in terms of games played and started, Kittle started 22 games across 2019 and 2020 (14 in 2019, 8 in 2020) while Waller played in all 32 contests across the two seasons and only did not start in one (16 GS in 2019, 15 GS in 2020).

This is not a new thing for Kittle either, just to list his injuries off, we have: Thigh/Hamstring pull grade 1, Pedal ankle sprain/pull grade 1, AC joint separation of the shoulder, knee patella sprain, hamstring strain grade 2, MCL sprain grade 2, and pedal foot fracture.  Compared to that of Darren Waller, which to date has been a knee patella sprain in 2020 Week 3, in which he was active for that game.  

Projection of Stats

As a continuation of the last section somewhat, Kittle is a relative unknown right now, as who knows what this injury does to his production, and if not much we still do not know which version of Kittle we get, and whether or not he stays on the field long.  In terms of Waller, he has only projected upwards throughout the 2020 season.

A statistic I find and continue to find absolutely amazing is that Darren Waller was on pace to have 1600 yards if he continued his production from the last eight games of 2020 over a whole season.  This goes to show that if he can sustain that production again over a 17 game span now, and get enough receptions and YAC to continue through the whole season what he ended with last year, he could be absolutely on pace to be phenomenal.  Will he hit 1600 yards in a season?  I find it unlikely.  But the projection reading that number shows he could be on pace for his first 1300 or even 1400 yard season if anything.

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