Next up in our Position Battle series, we take a look at the tight ends currently on the Oakland Raiders roster.
By nature, tight ends are a bit of an offensive Swiss army knife; they need to be able to block like a lineman, catch passes like a wide receiver, and do a little bit of everything in between.
While they might not be the flashiest players on the football field, good teams know how to utilize their tight ends, and I'm quite certain Head Coach Jon Gruden will do just that for Jared Cook and Co., this year.
Each day we're inching closer and closer to training camp, so let's review the tight ends currently on the Silver and Black's roster.
Overview: Who said tight ends can't be offensive dynamos?
In his first season in Oakland, Jared Cook led the Silver and Black in both receptions (54) and receiving yards (688), while also adding a pair of touchdowns for good measure.
Now, in 2018, with Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, and Martavis Bryant on the roster, I think it would be a little surprising if a tight end led the team in receiving again, but Cook's production just reinforces the fact that the Raiders tight ends are more than capable of putting up big numbers.
While Clive Walford is now a member of the New York Jets, both Cook and Lee Smith are back for another go round, as is Pharaoh Brown who made two appearances towards the end of 2017.
As is the case with everywhere else on the roster, there are some new faces you'll have to get used to seeing, most noticeably former Los Angeles Ram Derek Carrier.
The top of the position group looks – on paper anyway – to be pretty solidified, but keep an eye on the depth at tight end; seeing those guys battle it out will be fun to watch.
Battle to Watch:
Eddie Paskal: Kyle and I are in lockstep with this one; we're both going to have our eyes peeled on who the third tight end on the roster ends up being.
I think it's safe to say that Jared Cook and Lee Smith have pretty strong holds on their jobs at this point, and while anything can happen once we get to Napa, I'd really be shocked to see a Raiders roster without either of them on it.
That being said, there's certainly a ton of intrigue in this group towards the bottom of it.
Last season, for the most part, the Silver and Black carried three tight ends, and while Coach Gruden will assuredly have his spin on how he builds the roster, it's a safe bet that at least three tight ends will be among the final 53.
So, who ends up being that guy? Derek Carrier? Pharaoh Brown? Will one of the undrafted rookies have a great camp and turn some heads? We'll know in a few, short weeks.
Kyle Martin: Yup, I'm going to agree with Eddie here. Headed into 2018, you can expect Jared Cook to once again lead the group in receiving yards, and Lee Smith to dominate opponents at the line of scrimmage. The duo served as the primary receiving and blocking tight ends for the Silver and Black in 2017, and I don't expect that to change; however, the tight ends room has grown, and there will be some competition behind them.
After serving as a member of the Los Angeles Rams in 2017, the Raiders acquired tight end Derek Carrier in free agency, and he brings a skill set similar to Lee Smith. Carrier has proven to be a reliable blocker, and in Gruden's gritty offense he should be a valuable asset. He'll have some competition for that third tight end spot, though, assuming the team keeps three tight ends on the roster. Between Pharaoh Brown, Paul Butler, and Marcus Baugh, the trio have their work cut out for them, with two spots presumably locked up.
This could be a four-way race throughout Training Camp and the preseason.
Reviewing the Oakland Raiders tight ends going into 2018 Training Camp.
Storyline to Follow:
EP: I'm interested to see how much of a role Jared Cook has in the passing offense in 2018.
Like we said earlier, No. 87 was the team's most-productive receiver in 2017, and while I think he's going to put up big numbers once again, I don't know if it'll be to the tune of what it was last year.
This is certainly no shot at Cook either; I think he's a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end, but with a healthy Amari Cooper, along with Martavis Bryant and Jordy Nelson in the fold now, I think the ball is going to be thrown to a ton of different guys on offense.
Cook – along with the rest of the tight ends – will still be heavily involved as run blockers, but seeing how the former South Carolina Gamecock looks in the passing attack is something I'm fired up to watch during camp.
KM: I feel like I'm repeating myself, but we really won't know much about how Gruden utilizes his players until… well, he does.
From what we've seen Gruden reveal offensively through the offseason – which isn't much, and understandably so – indicates that the offense will feature a lot of ground and pound, which will require strong blocking from the tight ends. I'm interested in seeing what packages Gruden features Cook and Smith in, among others, and we should get a far better look at that during camp.
Keep an Eye On…
EP: Big Lee Smith.
Full disclosure, Smith's game is one of my favorite on the Raiders; he's just an old school, tough, beast along the offensive line, and while he doesn't catch a lot of passes, I could watch the man play football for hours.
Smith is a throwback player, the kind you don't see enough in the 2018 version of the NFL, so if you love the game, and you want to see a dude set the tone at the line of scrimmage, keep an eye on No. 86, especially when the pads come on.
KM: Jared Cook.
In his first season with the Silver and Black, Cook led the team in receiving with 54 receptions for a total of 688 yards. With a talented trio of wide receivers in Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, and Martavis Bryant, it might be hard for Cook to lead the team in receiving again, but his impact is undeniable. Cook built quite the rapport with Derek Carr in their first year together, and there's no reason they shouldn't build on that in 2018. No. 87's ability to stretch the field, and attack the seams makes him a mismatch problem for opposing defensive coordinators.
I think Cook will play an important role in Gruden's offense.
MORE POSITION BATTLES: