Oakland Raiders' Position Battles: Tight Ends

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Quarterback Derek Carr won't have any shortage of offensive weapons in 2016.

Not only does he have wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree stressing defenses on the outside, but running back Latavius Murray will have another year of experience under his belt, and hopefully DeAndré Washington will provide yet another option out of the backfield for Carr and the Raiders' offense.

With a plethora of playmakers on the offensive side of the football, one could forget about the tight ends that the Raiders have on the roster, but that would be doing a disservice to the talented group that the Silver and Black have assembled.

Headlined by Lee Smith and Clive Walford, the tight end group is an interesting one for the Raiders. Let's take an early look at the tight ends on the roster, and find out what to expect from this position group heading into Training Camp 2016.

Tight End – Gabe Holmes – Second Season – Purdue

To me, Holmes is not only one of the most interesting players in the position group, he's one of the most intriguing players on the roster.

After being inactive for the first game of the 2015 season, Holmes spent the next eight weeks on the practice squad before being elevated once again to the active roster prior to the team's Week 10 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.

While the physical tight end was inactive for each of the team's final eight games, the mere fact the he was on the active roster means that the Raiders' coaching staff values his skillset, and it's easy to see why.

Standing at 6'5" and tipping the scales at 255 pounds, Holmes is undoubtedly a physical specimen, and while he hasn't gotten a chance to show it yet in a game, he's shown in practice that he's capable of producing at a high level.

With another year of experience under his belt, Holmes should certainly find himself in the mix for increased reps in 2016.

Tight End – Ryan O'Malley – Rookie – University of Pennsylvania

After playing his college football at the University of Pennsylvania, the two-time All-Ivy selection signed with the Raiders this offseason as an undrafted free agent.

At this point in his career, O'Malley is more valuable as a blocker and helping aid the run game than he is as an aerial threat – he caught just 23 passes during his first three seasons as a Quaker – but he'll have to show his aptitude in that area if he wants to extend his career in Silver and Black.

O'Malley will face an uphill battle to make the final roster – particularly with a trio of quality tight ends end ahead of him – but anything is possible if he makes the most of the opportunities he's presented with during training camp.

Tight End – Mychal Rivera – Fourth Season – Tennessee

Rivera is somewhat the forgotten man in this positon group.

After back-to-back quality seasons as predominantly a pass-catching tight end, Rivera saw his numbers trend downward a little in 2015 as he caught just 32 passes for 280 yards and one touchdown. The former Tennessee Volunteer has served primarily as a receiving threat since he arrived in Silver and Black, and if he can develop his game to also aid as a blocker in the run game, that would serve him well going into 2016.

Regardless, Rivera figures to be yet another weapon for Carr to have at his disposal in the upcoming season.

Tight End – Lee Smith – Fifth Season – Marshall

Smith's numbers won't necessarily jump off the stat sheet, but that's fine – his game is far more than just what shows up on the stat sheet.

The imposing tight end caught just 12 passes in 2016, but his impact as an asset in the run game and in pass protection can't be overstated.

The 28-year-old has routinely described himself as a "blue collar" type of player, and that's exactly what he is. Smith will routinely be implemented as an extra offensive lineman in the team's jumbo sets, and he has no problem getting his hands dirty and mixing things up as a blocker.

Every team needs a player or two like Lee Smith, and in 2016 he figures to fill much the same role as he did in 2015.

Tight End – Colton Underwood – Second Season – Illinois State

Same face; new place; new position.

After beginning his career with the San Diego Chargers, Underwood joined the Raiders in December as a linebacker.

Now, going into 2016, the Illinois State-product is transitioning to the offensive side of the football, playing tight end – a position he hasn't played since high school.

Underwood – through no fault of his own – is admittedly raw at the position, and he's going to have really make the most of every practice rep in the early stages of Training Camp 2016 if he wants to stick around.

Tight End Clive Walford – Second Season – University of Miami

Pundits around the league are expecting big things from the former Miami Hurricane heading into his second NFL season.

Walford appeared in all 16 games during his rookie campaign, and he really came into his own over the final half of the season, finishing 2016 with 28 receptions for 329 yards and three touchdowns.

On paper, Walford definitely looks the part of a dual-threat tight end –he's shown to be valuable run blocker and pass protector.

After missing parts of the Offseason Workout Program recovering from a knee injury, Walford should be 100 percent when the team reports to training camp, and much will be expected from the dynamic tight end in 2016.

Keep An Eye On…

First off, will Walford enjoy a jump in production heading into his second NFL season?

Having a dynamic tight end who can take control of the middle of the field is a luxury that not many teams in the league can enjoy, but Walford certainly has the ability to be just that for the Oakland Raiders in 2016.

As long as he's healthy and able to contribute, the big tight end figures to find himself as a key cog in the Raiders' offense this season.

The other thing I'll be keyed in on is how the roster numbers shake out for the tight ends. The fact is that not all the tight ends will find themselves on the active roster, in fact, probably a few of them won't make it to the team's Week 1 matchup with the New Orleans Saints.

With a group that has as much talent as it does, it'll be interesting to see which quality players find themselves on the outside looking in when training camp comes to a close.

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