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LAS VEGAS, NV -- While he has been a star tight end in the NFL for quite a while now, things didn't start off that way for New York Giants tight end Darren Waller. First of all, he came into the league as a wide receiver, selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Secondly, he played just 45 snaps across six games during his rookie season before landing on injured reserve. Finally, Waller moved to tight end before his sophomore campaign, but was suspended for four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy, then was suspended for the entire 2017 season after a second violation.

It wasn't until his second season with the then-Oakland Raiders that Waller really broke out, as he caught 90 passes for 1,145 yards and three scores in 2019. Waller has been very open about how his personal development led to his development on the field, and not the other way around. After a recent workout in Las Vegas with NFL Draft prospects Ja'Tavion Sanders and Cade Stover, Waller gifted the pair three books he says helped him on his journey: "10% Happier" by Dan Harris, "The Untethered Soul" by Michael A. Singer and "Think Like a Monk" by Jay Shetty.

It was no surprise, then, when Waller said that his best advice for incoming tight end prospects like Sanders, Stover, Brock Bowers and others had more to do with the mental side of the game than the physical side.

"I would say it starts with just taking care of your mind, first and foremost. Taking care of your inner world," said Waller, who spoke to CBS Sports as part of a promotional event for Icy Hot. "I feel like the moment I started investing in better daily habits of taking care of myself and making sure I was growing as a human being, my play started to get better instantly in my training and practices and games.

"And just to be patient with your journey. We live in the instant gratification world. And the route of playing core-four special teams for a couple of years and not really getting an opportunity to be like a mainstay in the offensive game plan until Year 5 -- that's not the route a lot of people want; but in that route, there's a lot of character developing in that process. So I'll say just being patient with that process, not expecting results before they come and being OK with having a role that may not be sexy to fantasy or social media, but trusting that as long as you continue to get better, that opportunity is going to present itself."

Of course, we saw last year that sometimes the opportunity actually does present itself right away for rookie tight ends. Sam LaPorta was a top receiving option in Detroit from the jump. Dalton Kincaid emerged as a strong target for Josh Allen. Both Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft contributed for the Packers. Michael Mayer and Will Mallory made impacts as well. Getting on the field is obviously the biggest hurdle on the way to success, but Waller says there's another thing that should be considered.

"You gotta look at the guys who are in the building that are developing them," Waller said. "When I got to the Raiders, my coach was Frank Smith. He's the offensive coordinator for the Dolphins now. He's an incredible coach. And I feel like there's a lot of young players that have a lot of talent, but the people that are in place to develop them may not necessarily be that great at developing or have a vision for what they want them to be.

"And I feel like those situations with those guys, they have people that have a vision of what they want. And it's really cool to see them come in and do what they're doing. So I hope a couple of these guys in this [class] are able to do something similar."

These days, tight ends are significantly more important parts of their teams' passing attacks than they were when Waller first started out. Accordingly, defenders have had to evolve to deal with the problems they cause. Waller has noticed that as well. 

"They're like super hybrids now, man," Waller said. "Like a guy, Kyle Hamilton. He's big and it's like, these big safeties out there. [In the past], they were usually too stiff or ... if they can't press you at the line, they're not going to do a good job. But now you got guys that are starting to match in the height-weight-speed category a little bit better and can move in open field. So it's really cool to see because it's, for a while, the weapons that we became ... it's like, dang, what can you do?

"But now the defense is like, 'All right. We might have something to do with that.' So it's really cool to see how it's evolving. It's a guy like [Hamilton]. It feels like it had to evolve like that because otherwise it's like, what are you doing with these dudes? Like they're running around against linebackers. It doesn't work."

How defenses work and with which players they do and don't defend tight ends with has obviously changed how players like Waller have to play the position. But it's also changed how he prepares. These days, he has to watch film a little bit differently than he might have earlier in his career, because of the way teams might guard players like Waller himself. 

"The first thing I do is I usually look up if they've played Kansas City recently, how they've matched up with Travis [Kelce] or like a San Francisco tight end, because they'll treat us differently," Waller said. "They'll have a corner following you around a decent amount. Won't put guys in positions to cover you one on one because they know it only takes one play. 

"So I start there, but I also look at tight end success against that defense. Who's the main guy that's usually covering the tight ends. What coverages they're in in certain formations. Situations where it's me, the one and the trips on the other side, what are their typical coverages in certain down-and-distance situations, things like that. But you got to be really detailed and looking at it because they're going to have a plan."

Waller still is not answering questions about whether or not he'll play another season in the NFL. He has three years remaining on his contract with the Giants, but there have been rumors throughout the offseason that he might retire. He's clearly still thinking the game at a level commensurate with what's necessary to succeed on the field, but his body has taken a beating over the past several seasons and it's been increasingly difficult for him to stay healthy. 

Since his breakout 2019 and 2020 campaigns, Waller has played just 32 of 51 possible games across three seasons. Whether he sticks around or not, Waller and his ilk have made a lasting impact on the position, and that effect will ripple down through the players in this year's draft and beyond.