Wide receiver Darren Waller wasn't a difficult target for quarterbacks to find during the Ravens' rookie minicamp this past weekend. As he towered over defensive backs, the sixth-round NFL draft pick barely had to jump to catch a series of downfield passes.
At 6 feet 6, 238 pounds, with the athleticism to run the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds and record a 37-inch vertical leap, Waller is an intriguing developmental project because of his rare size-speed combination. He's the tallest and heaviest wide receiver on the Ravens' roster.
Waller was infrequently targeted at run-heavy Georgia Tech, where he caught 51 passes for 971 yards and nine touchdowns in his career. He was primarily a safety in high school and shifted to wide receiver in college, during which he grew an inch and gained 20 pounds.
"Playing receiver is new to me. I'm, by no means, a master of what I'm doing," Waller said. "I go out there every day with the mindset of getting better. I feel like I'm going to be there soon."
In the Orange Bowl against Mississippi State, Waller regularly got behind the secondary. He outmuscled a smaller cornerback for a long touchdown reception and finished with five catches for 114 yards in his final college game, one of the top performances in his otherwise underwhelming career.
The Ravens have been searching for a big wide receiver for years. The team drafted Tommy Streeter out of the University of Miami in the sixth round in 2012. Although the 6-foot-5, 219-pound Streeter had 4.37 speed, he was extremely raw, had bad hands and was cut by the Ravens in training camp in his second season after spending his rookie seasn on injured reserve. Streeter's now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, his fifth NFL team, and has never caught a pass in a regular-season game.
The Ravens are confident that Waller is a much different, better prospect.
"You have to look up really high when you talk to him," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He has good catch radius. We saw it on tape, we saw it in the workout, but now to see it here on our field is the confirmation [of] how well he moves for a big man.
"Now, he doesn't move like a 5-foot-9 receiver. He's long, he's fast, he gets in and out of breaks exceptionally well. He can snatch the ball. So, we'll see where it goes from here, but so far, so good."
The Ravens considered drafting Waller as high as the fifth round.
"We all covet big receivers," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "To get a big receiver, another big target, we know how tough it is facing receivers that are that type of size. He brings all of that."
Waller blocked a lot on the perimeter for Georgia Tech in former Navy coach Paul Johnson's run-first triple-option offense. He was thrown a few passes per game and had 26 catches for 442 yards and six touchdowns last season.
"It taught me to be unselfish," Waller said. "I grew more and more as my career went along. Blocking teaches you to be humble and completely selfless."
Waller served a pair of suspensions at Georgia Tech over the past two years for testing positive for marijuana, according to NFL sources. Another violation of athletic department policy would probably have ended Waller's career, but he had no further issues after serving a two-game suspension to start last season.
"You can seem selfish at one point when you really don't mean to be, making sure you have that mindset of putting your team first and never letting that leave your mind," Waller said. "Coach Harbaugh puts an emphasis on it here, they're not playing around with that.
"I know just being in this kind of environment to be held accountable is going to be great for me. ... I was close. I could have potentially been put out of school and not playing football anymore. Learning that the hard way, better late than never."
Waller was quizzed about the suspensions by NFL scouts — including Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz — during the East-West Shrine all-star game.
"It was one of the things I hit him on, me and another scout from another team, and we did a pretty good job getting after him," Hortiz said. "He has made some mistakes when he was younger, and he was honest and upfront about it and didn't hide from it. He told us about his plan, and how he's dealing with it, how he has continued to deal with it.
"I came away impressed with how mature he became and his plan going forward. Sometimes you go into an interview with some of these guys and you're thinking you're ready to walk away and use it as the final dagger, and it was the opposite. I really was impressed with the way he carried himself and handled himself. We're comfortable with him."
Growing up in Kennesaw, Ga., Waller was a team captain and an all-county and second-team all-state selection who also played basketball for three seasons before using his senior year to prepare for college football.
"I hit a growth spurt between my sophomore and junior year of high school," said Waller, who bench pressed 225 pounds 12 times at the NFL scouting combine where he had a 10-5 broad jump and was measured with 33 1/4 arm length and 9-inch hands. "I loved basketball. I couldn't put one over the other. I didn't play basketball my senior year. I focused on putting on weight and trying to get ready to translate to the college level."
Signed to a four-year, $2.39 million contract that includes a $111,096 signing bonus, Waller faces competition to make the 53-man roster and contribute as a rookie. The Ravens return wide receivers Steve Smith, Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro and drafted Central Florida wide receiver Breshad Perriman in the first round.
Waller could be fighting for one of the final roster spots during training camp. He said his first goal is to make the team.
"Whatever my role is, I want to attack it, whether it's offense, special teams," he said. "Once I get a locker in that locker room, I'm ready to do whatever's asked of me."