It’s time for tight ends in part seven of this 10-part series breaking down the Raiders roster before training camp.
The strength of this group will be defined largely by the success of one man: Clive Walford.
The Raiders the second-year tight end’s potential and he’s flashed his ability several times. If he takes off and becomes a consistent and effective weapon for Derek Carr, the Raiders’ offense adds a new dynamic.
Some of the momentum in that regard stalled though this offseason when Walford was involved in an ATV accident. He injured his knee enough that it required surgery, but the expectation has always been that he’ll be back for training camp.
That’s the key. Walford needs as much time during training camp with Carr as possible. Walford caught 28 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns last season. The numbers probably could’ve been better if Walford hadn’t missed the bulk of training camp with a pair of injuries. That missed time together came after Carr was out for OTAs with an injury.
Now that Walford sat out this offseason program following his knee injury, the pair have missed quite a large bulk of time they could’ve spent building on their rapport. Sure, they had the whole regular season last year. But when game planning gets involved, it’s a little tougher to get in that individual work.
Walford obviously made a bad decision by hopping in an ATV and getting himself hurt. But if he can bounce back from the injury and quickly make up the lost ground, the Raiders will forget about it.
Here’s a look at the entire tight ends group:
The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Smith is the Raiders’ listed starter and he started all 15 games in which he played last year. But it’s important to distinguish his role. Smith is the team’s blocking tight end and that’s his primary job for the offense. He’s much more offensive line than he is receiver. He caught 12 passes last year — a career-high — for 70 yards and the fourth touchdown of his five-year career. If you’re looking for a fantasy option, he’s not the guy. But he does what the Raiders ask him to do and does it pretty well.
The Raiders listed Rivera as their No. 2 tight end all last season and he’s numbers were fairly comparable to Walford (32 catches, 280 yards, one touchdown). He wasn’t featured nearly as much as in 2014, when he had 58 catches for 534 yards and four scores and rumors of the Raiders possibly trading him came up during the offseason. Those disappeared after Walford’s injury created some uncertainty and for now he’s a nice luxury item until/unless Walford emerges.
As mentioned above, Walford is the key to this group. Who knows how many pass attempts exist after throwing a good chunk to Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree? But a good tight end can create tough matchups and the 6-5, 258-pound Walford can do that. Will he have any lingering effects from the knee injury? Can he further develop the connection with Carr? Can he become an every down tight end who can block effectively? These are the questions the Raiders hope to have answered about Walford very soon.
The Raiders had four tight ends active on the roster to end last season after promoting Gabe Holmes, a former UDFA they weren’t ready to see get signed away. He didn’t see any game action though. He was promoted because another team had interest and the Raiders could have trouble trying to stash him on the practice squad again this season.
They added Colton Underwood to the practice squad late last season. He came into the league as a linebacker and spent time on the Eagles and Chargers practice squad previously. He and rookie undrafted free agent Ryan O’Malley will obviously have a lot of work ahead to move up in this group.