Check out the six tight ends currently on the Raiders roster in action.
The Raiders tight end position is intertwined in the team's history, lore and mystique. From Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon's and Notre Dame offensive lineman Dave Casper's conversions, to Raymond Chester's athleticism and Todd Christiensen's uncanny ability to get open and make the toughest of catches – Raiders tight ends have been part and parcel to the franchise's success from the very beginning.
Over the past 15 years the Raiders have tried several different combinations at the position. Whether it be through the Draft or free agency, the Raiders tight end depth chart seems to change drastically year after year. Rickey Dudley, Doug Jolley, Mondriel Fulcher, Courtney Anderson, Roland Williams, O.J. Santiago, Tony Stewart, David Ausberry, Jeron Mastrud – these are just some of the tight ends that have spent time in the Silver and Black in recent years. Injuries, shifts in offensive philosophies and other factors have played a part in the seemingly revolving door at the position.
The Raiders drafted Mychal Rivera out of the University of Tennessee in the 6th round of the 2013 NFL Draft. His production has increased from year-to-year in his first two seasons in the NFL. In 2014, Rivera was second on the team in receptions with 58 for 534 yards and 4 touchdowns. Last year, Brian Leonhardt replaced Mastrud as the "blocking" tight end. He was unable to finish the season due to an injury.
This offseason, the Raiders overhauled the position. Lee Smith, all 6'6" and 265 pounds of him, came over from the Buffalo Bills. The team drafted Clive Walford in the 3rd round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of the University of Miami. The team added undrafted free agent Gabe Holmes out of Purdue. Scott Simonson, who spent most of last year on the practice squad is back, along with Rivera and Leonhardt.
Raiders tight ends average 6'4" tall and 254 pounds.
Tight ends coach Bobby Johnson lights up when he discusses his group's size. "This is a game for big people and that's something in my experience, the bigger humans you have, they tend to be more durable and last the long season," Coach Johnson said. "Bigger humans tend to be more durable, more physical and that's the image and that's the style of play we're going to have here. It's kind of what fits the Raider image. We're going to be a big, physical team. That's something we had to do with this position. I like the way they look right now."
Coach Johnson says that the plan is to play to the strengths of each player in the group.
"Because each guy has their niche, we can highlight those guys' strengths and not make them play to weaknesses," Coach Johnson said. "We have a nice mix of guys. There's a lot of good things in that group."
Coach Del Rio agrees with his tight ends coach with regard to the physicality and versatility of the group.
"There is some size there. I think if you want to run the ball, you better have a tight end or two that can block," said Head Coach Jack Del Rio. "We feel like we have several that can, but we feel like they can do more than that. I'm excited about that position and how it was changed."
When the Raiders selected Walford in the Draft, many draft experts and football writers applauded the move citing his ability to both block and catch. NFL Media's Mike Mayock said, "One of those guys who plays faster than he timed, vertical threat, catches the ball extremely well. You can see how fluid he is for a big guy, very active guy."
Pro Football Focus tweeted, "New Raiders TE Clive Walford averaged 3.26 Yards Per Route Run, No. 1 among draft-eligible tight ends."
The San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur tweeted, "The 6-4, 258-pound Walford is strong-side run blocker and a better route runner than Maxx Williams in my opinion. Good hands in traffic."
"We saw Clive as a complete tight end," said General Manager Reggie McKenzie during Draft weekend. "He's not only a receiver or a blocker-only type guy. He's a guy that's big and strong enough to pound it versus the [defensive] linemen, and he can flex out and run the routes and be that pass receiver. He's pretty much the total package when you're looking at a complete tight end."
"That's one thing that gets lost at this position a lot with these college guys that are coming out -- they're kind of one-dimensional, they're all receiver type guys," Coach Johnson said. "Very seldom, do you get the guys who are just blockers; they're basically extra tackles. Clive is multi-dimensional. He can block, he can run, he can catch, he can do it all. That to me added great value to him. From day one he was the top target guy. That's why everybody was excited he was there in the third round for us to get because he can be an every down guy."
In addition to players actually listed as tight ends, a pair of offensive linemen have seen time as extra blockers but have also caught touchdown passes – Donald Penn and Khalif Barnes.
"I know that both Khalif and Donald have stopped short of offering monetary incentives, but they've been openly politicking to get the ball. I'm aware of their skillsets," Coach Johnson quipped. "I enjoy the way these guys are on and off the field. They're a hard working group. They come prepared every day."
However the depth chart shakes out, one thing is for certain -- the football department has certainly created competition with large men at the tight end spot. This should be one of the more hotly contested position battles when training camp gets underway in two months.