The Oakland Raiders have dropped, traded, drafted, signed and released players and are now finalizing the roster as they enter offseason camps. With the team pretty much set personnel-wise there are going to be some major battles for playing time and it all begins now. Tight end remains a position of intrigue for fans and coaches alike. With the value at tight end ever-increasing in the NFL the position is essential to any offense’s success. The Raiders will have to find their impact player among a plethora of players this summer.
The Raiders stayed on the sidelines in free agency and the draft when it came to the tight end position. After making big changes at almost every single position this off season it surprised many people that tight end was not really addressed. With two draft picks from 2013 at tight end Reggie McKenzie seems to believe he has the right combination of guys for the job. Nick Kasa and Mychal Rivera were both drafted in the 6th round last year to join four-year veteran end David Ausberry.
The 2013 draftees were taken 12 picks apart from each other and were in place to play different roles in 2013. The bigger, stronger Kasa was brought in to mostly run block while Rivera was to be the pass catching route runner. Ausberry accelerated both players playing time by being placed on the season-ending disabled list in September.
Rivera showed some very nice hands at times but did not pose a consistent threat to defenses. He played in 622 snaps according to profootballfocus.com and graded out at 0.3 and struggled in blocking downs. Jeron Mastrud, who consequently has not been brought back with the team played most of the run blocking snaps meant for Kasa. Kasa only recorded 76 snaps and caught his lone touchdown as the last one of the Raiders season against Denver.
Brian Leonhardt from last year’s practice squad and a couple of undrafted rookies, Jake Murphy and Scott Simonson round out the remainder of the tight ends on the roster. Out of the University of Utah, Murphy ranked 10th at TE prior to the 2014 draft by cbssports.com. He posses good hands and has the potential to play outside. He has a shot a making some heads turn this off season and sneaking onto the team when final cuts are made.
The job is most likely a three man race. Ausberry is basically starting over after having little to show for his three previous seasons. He remains a talented played that the Raiders clearly are not willing to give up on yet.
Kasa is still raw and learning the position after being converted from defensive end while at the University of Colorado. He has the potential to be a dangerous weapon in the red zone and seems to be the obvious choice in run blocking downs. If he can clean up his route running and threaten defensive in the pass game his snaps will surely increase in 2014.
Rivera seems to be the leader in the race for playing time. He is clearly the cleanest route runner and has displayed that he can go up and catch balls over under-sized defensive backs. After playing in the majority of snaps in 2013 it would be shock for him to lose his spot.
With a stable of tight ends starting on the roster this summer the player that can display the most complete skill in both passing and run downs will win the majority of the snaps. The Raiders will need an outlet for Matt Schaub who historically loves to check down to the tight end position often.
As the competition prepares to get underway the coaches will be looking very closely at who has been working on their game in the off season. McKenzie gambled a little bit by making very few moves at tight end and it remains to be seen if there is a true threat to go with all the new offensive weapons that were acquired since 2013. Whether it is one, two or three guys contributing on Sundays tight end must be better than the 2013 version for this offense to gain momentum.
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