Editor’s note: Insider Scott Bair will be providing position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to Raiders training camp, which opens on July 31.
Who they have: Mychal Rivera, Lee Smith, Clive Walford, Brian Leonhardt, Gabe Holmes
Who they lost: Scott Simonson, David Ausberry, Nick Kasa
Looking back: The Raiders were thin at tight end to start the year, and things got worse as the season wore on. Mychal Rivera, considered primarily a receiving tight end, was forced into every-down duty after blocker Brian Leonhardt was lost with concussion-like symptoms. Practice squad player Scott Simonson was forced onto the active roster, making it difficult for the Raiders to run two-tight-end sets
Rivera showed quality receiving skills and improved blocking as the year went on, and could be the only keeper from the 2014 group.
Overall outlook: The Raiders needed upgrades at tight end and made them. They signed stout blocker Lee Smith in free agency and drafted versatile tight end Clive Walford in the third round. Both players impressed during the offseason program, and should see significant playing time this year.
Rivera could develop steadily and make an impact on this team as well. Leonhardt is still around, and could be injury insurance for Smith.
Camp competition: Walford and Rivera will compete to be quarterback Derek Carr’s primary receiving tight end. A solid performance in training camp could secure that role but, no matter who starts, both players should contribute in the passing game.
Walford’s versatility and ability to get down field could make him an attractive option in coordinator Bill Musgrave’s offense, though Rivera is a strong receiver with built-in chemistry with Carr.
Bottom line: It’s easy to see Smith involved in the running game and Walford as a fixture in this offense. That said, don’t count Rivera out.
He has a skill set worthy of a role in this offense, even if Walford excels during training camp. The Raiders are deeper at tight end, which is a real positive for an air attack longing to take flight.