Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller was one of the most productive receivers in the NFL last season but he had to go through a lot of stuff before he started to enjoy success in the league. Waller was in a dark place several times over the course of his life as for the good part of his life he was battling with drugs and alcohol.
Waller, who was taken by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2015 NFL draft, spent three years with the Ravens before the Ravens decided to move on from him. Since 2018, Waller has been a part of the Raiders organization and this year he is celebrating three years of sobriety.
"When I was a teenager, I was a real sensitive kid," Waller told CBS Sports. "I didn't really fit in much, and that kinda bothered me, so when I was 15, I started doing drugs and drinking and stuff. It was my way of kinda making friends and living out my emotions.
I thought that drugs were just the recipe for me to get through the stress. I know I became addicted quickly." When he arrived to the NFL, Waller wasn't really too positive about himself. "Somehow I still made it to the NFL, but not with really much confidence or self-respect," he recalls.
"I had countless failed drug tests, didn't really have any relationships with guys on my team. But after I was suspended from the league, I was kinda able to step away from everything and stop putting on a mask."
Waller surprised to be where he is now
Only one tight end had more received yards than Waller last season. "I never thought it'd be anything like this," he concedes, "that I would be considered at the top of my position group or anything like that.
But we're here now. "To see so many people idolize these players that do amazing things on the field, sometimes we forget that we're human beings, too. I'm as far from perfect as anybody can possibly be ... But I just think those things -- rigorous honesty and humility -- have allowed me to be free from my past, in a way.
I was working at a farmer's market for, like, seven months when I was out of the league, so I don't get too high or too low. I know what it's like to be somewhere I'm not being idolized or cheered for."
Waller is now an integral part of Raiders offense and he wants to deliver big time this season. "I want to be consistent and available like I was last year," Waller claimed. "We've got a lot of new weapons, so if that takes my numbers down, then that's OK. But I don't wanna be a flash-in-the-pan guy, here one year and gone the next. I definitely expect big things."