Overview:Good offenses typically need a lot of pieces. Most times they need a quality starting quarterback, talented playmakers out wide, and a good offensive line that serves as the catalyst for everything the team likes to do offensively. A good running game also helps, but it's also imperative to have guys on the roster who do the little things, the things that nobody notices, like holding a block, or clearing the way as a lead blocker for a running back to hit the hole. Well, for the Oakland Raiders, tight end Lee Smith was that guy. While he's not the kind of player whose stats jump off the page – he caught just 12 passes in 2015 – he filled a vital role on the Oakland Raiders offense, in addition to serving as one of the veteran leaders for the Silver and Black. Unfortunately, No. 86's season ended prematurely last year when he was placed on the Reserve/Injured list in early October. In his absence, Mychal Rivera and Clive Walford were the team's primary tight ends, and Ryan O'Malley appeared in one game after being elevated from the practice squad. Walford appeared in 15 games for the Silver and Black, pacing the tight ends with 359 yards and three touchdowns, while Rivera hauled in 18 receptions for 192 yards, finding the end zone once.
By The Numbers:In his second season as a Raider, Clive Walford set a career best in both receptions (33), and receiving yards (359), and he finished the season with the fourth most receiving yards on the team.
Going Forward:This will be one of the more interesting position groups for the Silver and Black as the team charges into 2017. Clive Walford will enter next season in the third year of his rookie deal, and while his future seems relatively secure, the same can't be said for Mychal Rivera who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agents in a few weeks when the league calendar turns over to the new year. Since being drafted by the Raiders in the sixth round (No. 184 overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft, Rivera has appeared in 61 games, catching 146 passes for 1,413 yards, and 10 touchdowns, with 2014 serving as his best statistical season. Where this position group in particular interests me though is the players set to return from injury in 2017. If all goes to plan, Lee Smith will be back in the fold for 2017, providing the type of gritty, hard-nosed type of play that he's been heralded for his entire career.
An exclusive look back at the tight ends from the 2016 season.
Also scheduled to get back in the mix is Gabe Holmes. The former Purdue Boilermaker was putting together a strong Training Camp 2016 before a preseason injury forced him to be placed on the Reserve/Injured list, ending his season before the regular season got underway. Standing at 6'5" and weighing in and 255 pounds, Holmes no doubt looks the part of an NFL tight end, and I'll be excited to see what he brings to the table as a healthy contributor in 2017.
Standout Performer:Clive Walford. While Walford didn't really have one standout game in particular in 2016, in the marathon that is the regular season, No. 88 became a consistent option for Derek Carr and the Raiders offense. Across the board, the second-year tight ends numbers improved in 2016, so with another year in the system, and another year of familiarity with Carr, I'll be excited to see if Walford can take another leap in his development in 2017.