This is the Darren Waller the New York Giants were hoping to see when they traded a 2023 third-round pick to the Raiders for the 31-year-old tight end this past March: seven receptions for 98 yards and a second-quarter touchdown that propelled the Giants to a 14-7 victory against the division-rival Washington Commanders on Sunday.
Darren Waller finally gets his first touchdown of the year on National Tight Ends day. You love to see it pic.twitter.com/5MJcBXmUM4
— NFL Fantasy Football (@NFLFantasy) October 22, 2023
Waller’s performance was the best yet of his seven-game Giants career, and his 15-yard touchdown marked the first that New York has scored in the first half all season. What’s more, the offense hadn’t managed to score a touchdown of its own since Week 3.
The Giants are sitting at 2-5 after Sunday’s win and still one game behind the Commanders (3-4) in the bottom of the NFC East, but for Waller, he’s still grateful — grateful to God not just that he’s in the NFL, but that he’s alive at all.
Waller was productive at the wide receiver position in college at Georgia Tech from 2012-14, good enough to be drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Yet what Waller managed to hide was his party lifestyle that resulted in the repeated abuse of drugs and alcohol.
Once he arrived in Baltimore, his problems worsened as his play on the field was hindered. He managed only 12 catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns during his first two seasons, the second of which included a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. But nothing changed. His habits had become addictions.
On June 30, 2017, he was suspended for a year from the NFL without pay for his second drug offense, and ordered to complete a rehabilitation program. Then on Aug. 11, less than two months later, he hit rock bottom.
Waller almost died from a drug overdose.
By the grace of God! Grateful for 5 years sober. Peace & love to everyone that has lent a hand & encouraged me along the way. If you’re reading this & suffering in silence, I hope you know that transformation is possible. We live in the age of miracles & you’re looking at one 🖤 pic.twitter.com/qx3fH0Ukc9
— Darren Waller (@Rackkwall83) August 13, 2022
Waller was reinstated to the NFL, resurrected his career with the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders, became one of the best tight ends in the league, and was even named to the Pro Bowl in 2020. Beyond the field, he shared openly about his own journey and became heavily involved in “Shine a Light” and other programs dedicated to helping those experiencing addiction and homelessness.
Ultimately, Waller says, it was all possible through the grace of God.
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In a recent interview with NFL analyst Ryan Clark, Waller talked about his ongoing fight against addiction, the significance of his jersey number, 12, and God’s grace in sustaining him.
“I need to fill that void (left by drugs) somehow. I still need to take the edge off. I still want to find something, because I still have that addiction and alcoholism in me. It’s never really gonna go away, and I have to come to grips with that,” Waller said. “I know that I walk daily with God and allow Him to take my mind off of that and on to things that are greater, onto a purpose for my life, onto doing things for other people.
“… If you feel like you can just coast spiritually through it, you’re really going backwards and you can start to feel it on the inside.”
Waller is strengthened in his daily battle by his wife, fellow believer and professional athlete Kelsey Plum of the Las Vegas Aces, as well as his public openness around addiction and his faith in God. In May 2022, he had the opportunity to share his testimony of faith at Immokalee First Seminole Baptist Church in Florida.
The following month, Waller was a guest on the “Faith on the Field Show” podcast, where he discussed his faith, and how being open about his story has helped him.
“I know I went to church as a kid and went to church kind of when I was in high school, but I realize looking back it was more of like a transactional religion,” he said. “Kind of like, if I do these things well, God will give some thing.”
Once he got to the Raiders, thanks in large part to Bible studies held at quarterback Derek Carr‘s house, Carr helped Waller realize what a true relationship with God meant.
“God’s grace is sufficient, and it’s not about what you’ve done,” Waller said on the podcast. “You’re still here and you can still be used and there’s power in your testimony.”
Waller has faced a variety of injuries that have prevented him from replicating his breakout seasons with the Raiders in 2019 and 2020, but if he can stay healthy, he and the Giants front office know he can provide tremendous playmaking ability for an offense that’s struggled at times.
With Waller playing at a high level, the Giants will try to win back-to-back games for the first time this season when they host the crosstown-rival New York Jets (3-3) on Sunday. The game is set for 1 p.m. ET.
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