We are now well into the fifth week of the Darren Waller injury watch. After the superstar tight end got hurt in the Raiders’ Thanksgiving Day win over the Cowboys, it’s been a weekly game of waiting for Wednesday practice reports to see if Waller participated. What is the latest on Waller’s injury status? Can fantasy football managers expect him to play again this season?
Darren Waller’s injury
This heading should really read “Darren Waller’s injuries,” since there are multiple. Initially, Waller hurt his back in the Thanksgiving game against the Cowboys. He was able to return after missing just a handful of plays, but then was tackled awkwardly and sustained a knee injury.
Following the game, the Raiders described Waller’s injury as an IT Band strain. IT Band injuries typically stem from overuse of the knees, specifically in runners. It’s a very strange injury. Waller has also been listed on the weekly injury report as having a back issue. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing whether it’s more his knee or his back that’s keeping him out of games because he hasn’t been able to get back on the practice field.
What is Darren Waller’s injury status this week?
On Monday, Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia said he was hopeful Waller would be able to practice Wednesday. Instead, Waller tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
Since Waller is on the reserve/COVID-19 list, we have no idea if he would’ve been able to practice this week. We also don’t know whether his knee or his back is the more serious injury.
When might Waller return from injury?
Given the timing of Waller’s positive COVID-19 test, the fifth day of his mandatory quarantine period will be Sunday. Even if he is asymptomatic, he cannot return automatically under the NFL’s new COVID protocols.
The only way Waller could possibly be back this week is if he produces a negative test by Sunday. Simply put, that’s not going to happen. No player has been able to produce a negative test a mere three days after testing positive. Is it impossible? No. Just extremely unlikely.
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Even if Waller is somehow able to clear the COVID protocols (perhaps via the same method the Chiefs attempted with Travis Kelce last week, where they activated him by the Saturday deadline with the hopes he would test out on Sunday), I can’t imagine a world where Las Vegas puts him on the field this week.
We’ve seen players struggle mightily with their stamina trying to play just a day or two after having COVID-19. Add in the fact that Waller will have not stepped onto an NFL field in over a month, and a Sunday return is just not a realistic outcome.
Will Waller play again this season?
At this point, I can confidently say Waller will not play in Week 17. Whether he plays in Week 18 or a potential playoff game is unknowable until we get more information.
Given the discussions about Waller potentially returning this week, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him give it a shot in Week 18 if the Raiders are faced with a win-and-in/win-and-help scenario.
If the Raiders were to be mathematically eliminated from the playoff picture, they wouldn’t bring Waller back for a meaningless game. But Vegas can’t be eliminated in Week 17. If Waller can play in Week 18, he will — but that’s no guarantee. If the Raiders make the playoffs, I think there’s a good chance Waller plays on Wild Card Weekend.
In either scenario, it does fantasy managers no good, as this is the final week of the fantasy season. If you made the fantasy championship without Waller, congratulations. I’m in one final where I have Waller on my roster. We are going to have to capture that crown without him.
Does Foster Moreau remain a viable alternative?
Foster Moreau has now started four consecutive games in Waller’s stead. In those games, he’s finished as the weekly TE26, TE25, TE7, and TE9. He’s been useful, specifically the past two weeks. Most importantly, Moreau is playing over 90% of the snaps and running a route on more than half of Derek Carr’s dropbacks.
This week, the Raiders get a Colts defense allowing the third-most fantasy points to tight ends. Unlike the Broncos last week, the Colts’ offense should actually make the Raiders have to call pass plays and run their offense. Moreau is on the TE1/2 borderline this week and I think he’s a safe start in fantasy championships.