For a group that doesn't have a ton of players in it, the Oakland Raiders tight ends will certainly have no shortage of fresh faces in the meeting room this year.
Jared Cook is gone – more on him later – as is Lee Smith, but the group has been retooled with the likes of rookie Foster Moreau, Erik Swoope and Luke Willson.
We've seen year after year just how valuable a tight end is to a dynamic offense – let's not forget that Jared Cook had nearly 900 receiving yards for the Raiders in 2018 – and while it remains to be seen whether or not Derek Carr leans as heavily on the tight end as he did last year, he'll have his fair share of quality playmakers to get the ball to if he's so inclined.
That said, let's take a look at the tight ends currently on the Raiders roster.
Battle to watch:
EP: The tight ends on the roster intrigue me for many reasons, but a big one is that since they all bring something a little different to the table, it's difficult to predict how the roster reductions are going to work out.
Paul Butler and rookie Foster Moreau are young guys with a ton of upside.
Darren Waller is an athletic freak with the skillset to take over the "Jared Cook role" on the Raiders offense, but with just four starts under his belt, the versatile tight end still has a lot to prove in 2019.
And Derek Carrier, Erik Swoope, and Luke Willson are all veteran players who each have proved year after year that they can be valuable assets to any offense that they're on.
The fact is this; the Silver and Black simply won't carry six tight ends into the regular season, so watching how Coach Gruden and Frank Smith put together their group will be something I'll be curious about all through training camp.
KM: As Eddie pointed out, each member of the tight ends room offers something different, and it's for that reason I don't think this will be a two-man race.
The Raiders lost a major playmaker this offseason when Jared Cook decided to sign with the New Orleans Saints. Cook had the best season of his career in 2018, totaling 896 yards, 68 receptions, and six touchdowns, while also making the first Pro Bowl appearance of his career. His impact on the offense was undeniable and Derek Carr lost one of his favorite targets.
So, who will fill the void?
Darren Waller is probably the most athletic of all the tight ends, proving during the team's road game against the Cincinnati Bengals last year that he can haul in impressive catches and turn on the jets at a moment's notice. Rookie tight end Foster Moreau has a lot of potential and is primarily known as a blocking tight end, but wasn't utilized in LSU's offense as a receiver even though he's more than capable of being a quality pass catcher. To me, Derek Carrier and Luke Willson offer similar skill sets, but I think they have just as much chance as anyone to make the roster.
Few position groups have as many question marks surrounding it like the tight ends unit. Hopefully training camp provides us with a little more clarity.
Storyline to follow:
EP: The development of Darren Waller.
I alluded to it earlier, but I'll say it again; standing at 6'6, and clocking in at 255 pounds with no shortage of raw, athletic ability, Waller has all the intangibles to be an incredibly productive NFL wide receiver.
Although Waller made just four appearances in Silver and Black last season, he showed in short order that he can be a playmaker – the man did take his first target as a Raider 44 yards after all – but if the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket wants to become the Raiders top tight end, he's going to have to show that type of productivity on a consistent basis.
Coach Gruden has made it abundantly clear that he's a big fan of what No. 83 can brings to the table; just how much Waller rewards that trust throughout training camp and the preseason remains to be seen.
Previewing the Raiders tight ends as we approach 2019 Training Camp. Darren Waller prepares for a bigger role in the system and is joined by Paul Butler, Derek Carrier, Erik Swoope, Luke Willson and rookie Foster Moreau.
KM: The maturation of Foster Moreau.
The fifth-round pick joins the Raiders eager to do whatever necessary to help the team win; whether that's filling a special teams role, or being a playmaker on offense, Moreau wants to do it all. That's a great mentality to have, especially as a rookie, but I think the former LSU Tiger can be more than just a special teams player.
During his four years at LSU, Moreau totaled 629 receiving yards, 52 receptions, and six touchdowns. Not staggering numbers, but enough to show he's capable of being a factor in an offense. How Gruden plans to maximize the 6'4", 253-pound tight end will be the storyline I'm most interested in during training camp.
Keep an eye on…
EP: Foster Moreau.
The rookie tight end might not have put up Travic Kelce-type numbers during his time at LSU, but from everything that we've heard, that perceived lack of production is more a reflection of his college coach's play calling than his actual ability.
Coach Gruden's proclivity for getting the tight end involved is no secret, and we're all hoping that the Raiders have a good one for both now and in the future with Moreau.
The former LSU Tiger isn't a finished product at this point – nor should he be – but I'm really excited about what he could possibly do on the field, even as a rookie.
KM: How about the Canadian, eh?
Luke Willson joined the Raiders after five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and one season with the Detroit Lions. He's a Super Bowl champion and was one of Russell Wilsons security-blanket targets during their tenure together.
At 6'5" and a dense 251 pounds, the former Rice Owl can do just about everything well. He's the kind of player that's worthy of the label "Gruden Grinder" and he can help mentor someone like Foster Moreau to boot. Entering his seventh season in the league, I can't imagine there's a lot we haven't seen from Willson, but he's sure to surprise some people I know it.
Question you want answered by the end of training camp:
EP: How many tight ends make legitimate bids to have a spot on the final roster?
Conventional wisdom would suggest three of the final 53 players would be tight ends, but you never know, maybe a fourth player will step up and show Gruden that he's an indispensable piece to the 2019 puzzle.
KM: Going to reiterate what Eddie said.
There are a lot of bodies in the tight ends room and one has to wonder just how many Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock will keep. A few of the tight ends do similar things, but it's who does it the best that will reign victorious.
Whoever steps up, the Raiders will continue to require production from the tight end position in order to fill the void left by Jared Cook.