Editor’s note: Insider Scott Bair will analyze each position group leading up to Raiders training camp, which starts on July 29. This installment focuses on tight ends. (The above video is from last offseason)
The Raiders left their tight ends intact, trusting incumbents will make the strides required to become a solid position group. Lee Smith is an anchor on rushing downs, with the nastiness and grit of an offensive lineman.
Mychal Rivera is a steady receiver with good hands.
Clive Walford, however, can take this group to another level. Last year’s third-round pick flashed real potential and versatility as a rookie. He had 28 catches for 329 yards and three touchdowns, with a desire to be a better blocker. He’ll need to build on last year’s effort and become a legitimate threat in the middle of the field.
The Raiders have youth down the depth chart, though they’ll likely keep three just three or four tight ends.
Preliminary depth chart
- Clive Walford
- Lee Smith (primarily blocking tight end)
- Mychal Rivera
- Gabe Holmes
- Colton Underwood
- Ryan O’Malley
Three questions heading into camp
1. Can Walford become a consistent threat?
The Raiders have threats at most every skill spot, without the consistency preferred from a top tight end. Standing 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Walford has the size and versatile talents preferred by coordinator Bill Musgrave.
Injuries, however, have impeded his progress. He missed most of last preseason with knee and hamstring injuries, and this offseason program after hurting a knee in an ATV accident. The Raiders need consistent play and presence from young No. 88 to take pressure off a solid receiver group and be an outlet in midfield.
2. Where does Rivera fit in?
Mychal Rivera has made offensive contributions in his three professional seasons, even as a sixth-round rookie out of Tennessee. His high water mark came in 2014, with 58 catches for 534 yards and four touchdowns. He was phased out some last year with Walford and Smith added, and it’s possible he’ll be down on the depth chart. The Raiders still need injury protection, and Rivera could be a quality backup. He enters the final year of his rookie deal, and may have to fend off younger competitors to maintain a solid snap cound.
3. Can Gabe Holmes earn a role?
The Raiders love Holmes, who stands a hulking 6-foot-5, 255 pounds and spent most of last season on the practice squad. Another team tried to poach Holmes off the reserve list, prompting the Raiders to promote him to the 53-man squad. An undrafted free agent last season, Holmes has potential as a offensive threat and a special teams regular. He has speed and good hands, and could push for a roster spot even as a No. 3 option.