The Oakland Raiders have a lot of potential but not a lot of experience when it comes to the tight end position. When offseason workouts begin, the tight end with the most NFL experience will be David Ausberry, a former wide receiver out of USC that missed all of last season with a shoulder injury sustained in the pre-season. Entering his fourth season in the league, Ausberry has only made nine catches for 106 yards in two seasons of action. Besides Ausberry, the Raiders have two former sixth round picks in Nick Kasa and Mychal Rivera. Of those two, Rivera looks the most promising and finished his rookie season strong.
On paper, this trio does not look like the most dominant group of tight ends in the league and as such has had many calling for the Raiders to upgrade the position in the offseason. But up to this point, general manager Reggie McKenzie has declined to do so, in fact, he has not even brought back Jeron Mastrud, who started 12 games for the Raiders in 2013. The Raiders may still draft a tight end, but I could just as easily see them sticking with the guys they have and producing big numbers at the tight end position this season.
The reason? Matt Schaub.
Throughout his career, Schaub has shown a tendency to make a lot of use out of his tight ends in the passing game. In looking at the three most recent years that Schaub was a starter (not counting 2013 when he was benched for much of the season), it is clear that he loves his tight ends. In 2012, tight end Owen Daniels had the second most targets, catches and yards of anyone on the team. In 2011, he led the team in targets, yards and receptions. In 2010, he and fellow tight end Joel Dreeson combined to produce the second most on the team in targets, yards and catches.
While the guys on the Raiders roster are young and inexperienced, the two best guys in Ausberry and Rivera are very good pass catchers. The reason Mastrud started so many games in 2013 is because of his skills as a blocker. The Raiders had a terrible offensive line and needed help blocking more than they needed a pass catching tight end. This year, with an upgraded offensive line and a quarterback who likes to use his tight ends, things should be different. The Raiders will likely be using more two tight end sets and taking advantage of the tight end position in the passing game much more than this past season.
While both Ausberry and Rivera need to improve their blocking, and the lack of that skill set will likely limit the number of snaps they see, with Schaub at quarterback they could both be in for big seasons in the passing game.