2020 Position Battle: Jason Witten's leadership and the development of emerging star Darren Waller

Every quarterback needs a safety net and last year Derek Carr found a reliable target in Darren Waller.

Consistent production at the tight end position is hard to come by, but prior to the start of the 2019 campaign, the Raiders knew they had something in the overlooked talent. In 2018, Head Coach Jon Gruden revealed a glimpse of Waller's potential, running a designed play against the Cincinnati Bengals showcasing the tight end's speed. The 27-year-old lived up to that potential last year and established himself as one of the top tight ends in the league.

Waller wasn't the only standout at the position, but he played an integral role. It's time to evaluate the tight ends and the wealth of talent within the group.

Previous Position Battles:

New Faces

Jason Witten

Nick Bowers

Nick O'Leary

Returning Players

Darren Waller

Foster Moreau

Derek Carrier

Paul Butler

Position Review

The Raiders' tight ends accounted for 1,427 of the team's 4,110 receiving yards and one-third of the team's 367 receptions in 2019.

Following the departure of Jared Cook before the start of last season, the Raiders placed a lot of trust and responsibility with Darren Waller. The former wide receiver answered the call and in the process captivated the league with his fascinating story from drug addiction to stardom on the gridiron. With a dismantled receiving corps, Derek Carr relied on Waller heavily, targeting him a team-high 117 times, completing 90 pass attempts.

As time went on, defensive coordinators started scheming to stop the Carr-Waller connection. The limited weapons around him allowed defenses to focus on him, but that granted an opportunity for rookie foster Moreau to fly under the radar. 

Before he suffered a season-ending injury, the former LSU Tiger became a red zone threat. With defenses expecting the ball to go to Waller, Josh Jacobs, Tyrell Williams, or Hunter Renfrow, the slept-on rookie crept into the back of the end zone multiple times and pounced, hauling in five touchdowns.

The Raiders anticipate Waller and Moreau will continue being a fixture in the offense for years to come, but there's still a lot they need to learn, which is why the team signed one of the greatest tight ends of all time this offseason — former Dallas Cowboy Jason Witten.

Many thought Witten would retire in the Silver and Blue — myself included — but he's trading it in for the Silver and Black. Two hundred forty-five starts to his name, 1,215 receptions, 12,977 receiving yards, and 72 touchdowns speak for itself. Witten is bringing elite knowledge and leadership to the Raiders locker room, and the team will be able to benefit from it, but more specifically the young tight ends around him. Even though Witten is 38 years young, General Manager Mike Mayock and Head Coach Jon Gruden still believe he can contribute as a receiver and a blocker. Waller and Moreau might see the most playing time, but don't be surprised if the savvy veteran gets in the mix.

Bold Prediction

No one will be shocked if Waller has another awe-inspiring season, but they might be surprised when Jason Witten ends up leading the tight ends' room in receiving touchdowns. Of all my bold predictions, this might be my boldest yet. Through the years, Witten has been most effective when he's in the red zone and near the goal line. He's not as fast or elusive as he used to be, but he's crafty and able to create space.

View photos of the Las Vegas Raiders tight ends heading into 2020 Training Camp. The position is headlined by Darren Waller, Foster Moreau and Pro Bowler Jason Witten.

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