Dec 22, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders right end Mychal Rivera (81) is defended by San Diego Chargers cornerback Shareece Wright (29) on a 37-yard reception during the first half at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Raiders 2014 Player Profiles: Mychal Rivera

Leading up to the 2014 NFL season, Just Blog Baby will be profiling the Oakland Raiders roster in an attempt to highlight the players that the Raider Nation will be cheering on in 2014. We start the series with Mychal Rivera, a promising tight end who burst onto the scene as a rookie last season. 

Mychal Rivera’s first season with the Oakland Raiders was a successful one as the underrated tight end prospect from the University of Tennessee made his mark in a rookie season where Rivera was the team’s best receiving tight end after David Ausberry hit the IR with a shoulder injury. Taking advantage of an increased role in his rookie season despite being a sixth round pick, Rivera’s four touchdown catches showed upside that has him in line to take an even bigger role this season even with the return of a healthy Ausberry.

Here is what you need to know about Mychal Rivera

NFL Experience: One season. (2013, sixth round draft pick)

College Career: Rivera started his career in Oregon where now Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly asked him to move to the offensive line, leading Rivera to a transfer to the JUCO ranks before being noticed by Tennessee where he eventually turned into one of the best Vols tight ends of all time.

Rivera was named to the All-SEC first team in his final college season, breaking Jason Witten’s single season record for receiving yards in a season while starting 10 of 12 games for the Vols. In total Rivera caught six touchdowns at Tennessee, joining the team’s 1,000 yard club at tight end as the third person to achieve the feat at Tennessee in the storied history of the program.

College Stats: 76 catches, 1018 yards, 6 TD’s (Three seasons) 

NFL career: As mentioned, Rivera’s career was jumpstarted in 2013 as after being drafted in the sixth round as an intriguing prospect with high upside and strong numbers for a sixth round draft pick the injury to David Ausberry allowed Rivera to get onto the field and show what he could do earlier than most expected on Draft Day.

Playing in all 16 games for the Raiders as a rookie, Rivera earned a catch in all but one performance (Week 8 in a 21-18 win against Pittsburgh) and was the team’s best receiving threat at the position. Showing the potential that he displayed in college, Rivera wound up finishing with 38 catches in his impressive rookie campaign good enough for over 400 yards of receiving in addition to four touchdowns.

Not even a late hit by the Titans Michael Griffin could slow Rivera down as the tight end showed that he can remain durable by playing in every game, luckily not missing time for a headshot that gave the rookie a concussion. Able to stay on the field and produce every week, Rivera earned the respect of both fans as well as the coaching staff in the only year of his career to date.

NFL stats: 16 games (three starts), 38 catches, 401 yards, 4 TD’s. 

Career Highlight: Rivera’s first touchdown catch was memorable, catching Matt Flynn’s only passing touchdown for his first career TD reception Rivera’s thunder was slightly stolen by his famous sister Naya Rivera of Glee fame having a celebration of the ages after the catch.

Strengths: For now Rivera’s obvious strength is in his receiving capabilities as he filled in for Ausberry as the team’s “receiving tight end” and should be a key part of the Raiders passing game in 2014 with expected 2014 start Matt Schaub historically using his tight ends often in the passing game. Expect another year of 30+ catches for Rivera in his sophomore season as the team will likely be expecting to use him more with a year of experience under his belt.

Weaknesses: Run blocking is what prevented the Raiders from using Mychal Rivera as their starter in 2013 as despite having been labelled as a tight end by Chip Kelly out of high school, Rivera’s blocking was not good enough to prevent Jeron Mastrud from having to occupy the majority of the team’s run blocking out of the tight end position. Something that the rookie needs to improve on after receiving a -3.8 run block rating from Pro Football Focus in his rookie season.

2014 Outlook: The future is bright for Rivera and his progression is a key for the Raiders passing game this season as head coach Dennis Allen has openly been looking for one of his tight ends to step up. Leading up to training camp it appears that Allen will be leaning on either Rivera or the returning Ausberry to be that tight end to overtake the #1 tight end role in 2014 and with both players being receiving-based TE’s the role might just go to which player that can prove they are more reliable at run blocking during the preseason.

Projected Depth Chart Position: #1 on the TE depth chart, but splitting time with David Ausberry equally as the Raiders should continue to platoon their tight ends until they find someone who they consider a true starter.

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