Oakland Raiders’ Future Coming Together Nicely

4 of 6

Dec 7, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera (81) runs with the ball after making a catch against the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the 49ers 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Tight End

While the absence of Rod Streater has left the wide receiver group somewhat rudderless, with James Jones as the only consistent contributor throughout the year, one of the key stories on the Raider offense has been the emergence of tight end Mychal Rivera. Rivera turned in the best performance of his career Sunday against the 49ers, catching seven passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in what could very well be seen as his first true breakout performance when people look back over his career in the future.

Rivera, a Los Angeles native, was drafted in the 6th round of the 2013 draft, 184th overall, out of the University of Tennessee. Rivera had been a solid tight end for the Volunteers, but nothing exceptional, recording 76 receptions for 1,018 yards and six TD’s in three years in Knoxville. He was not particularly fast or particularly strong at the Combine, and was something of an afterthought in the Raiders draft class. But as a rookie, he began to have an impact immediately after a strong training camp, and played all sixteen games for the Raiders, generally as the team’s second tight end behind Jaron Mastrud. Despite not being a full-time starter, Rivera finished third on the team in receptions with 38, including four touchdown receptions.

Rivera developed a good rapport with quarterback Derek Carr in training camp last summer, and played a big role in Carr’s coming-out party against the Seahawks in the final game of the preseason. But, like many of the Raiders pass-catchers, he struggled with dropping passes early in the regular season, and his production slipped from week to week as Brian Leonhardt – a bigger tight end who is a better natural blocker – began to get more of his snaps. Rivera hit rock bottom when he did not record a single reception in the 31-28 loss to San Diego, despite Carr having his biggest game of the year.  Rivera only recorded one catch the following week against Arizona. Through six games, he had recorded 13 catches for 101 yards.

But beginning in the Cleveland game, something changed, and Rivera started to become a key target for Derek Carr and a key feature in Greg Olson’s scheme. He recorded seven catches for 83 yards in the game, then followed it with an eight reception, two TD performance against Seattle’s vaunted secondary. In just two games, he had already more than doubled his totals in receptions and yards. He caught another six passes, including another TD, the following week against Denver and added another three receptions in the rematch with San Diego.  He had developed into a key 3rd-down and goal line target for Carr, giving the offense another option besides James Jones to make those key plays.

Live Feed

Tennessee football: Former Vol Mychal Rivera's sister, Naya, confirmed dead
Tennessee football: Former Vol Mychal Rivera's sister, Naya, confirmed dead /

All for Tennessee

  • Tennessee football's top five NFL TEs of all time All for Tennessee
  • Jacksonville Jaguars also pick up options on Shatley and Wells, decline on Benn and Rivera Black and Teal
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: What happens with Mychal Rivera, Rashad Greene? NFL Spin Zone
  • Against Kansas city, he had his worst performance as a receiver since being shut out of the first San Diego game.  But he may have had one of his best performances of the year as a football player.  At 6’3″ and 242 pounds, Rivera found himself lining up as the fullback in I-formations, and on both of Latavius’ Murray’s touchdown runs, he had key blocks: he sealed Tamba Hali on the edge on Murray’s 11-yard score, and sealed James-Michael Johnson on the inside on the 90-yard touchdown run. He also operated as the fullback for much of the Raiders’ extended game-winning drive, and his sole catch of the game was an eight yard reception on 3rd and 6 that kept that key drive going.

    On Sunday, Rivera was used less as a fullback and more as a receiver, as Greg Olsen found ways to move him around and create mismatches. He devastated the 49ers inside linebackers over the middle for huge gains, and then got split out wide to outmatch 49er cornerback Leon McFadden on a 5-yard touchdown pass. McFadden had great coverage on the play, but Rivera simply used his larger frame and leaping ability to box him out and get up to make the catch on the perfectly-placed high pass from Derek Carr. On that touchdown drive, he caught 3 passes for 40 yards, including a 27-yard catch on 3rd down that put the Raiders in scoring position.  His touchdown was the finishing move for the Raider offense, putting the Silver and Black up 24-13 early in the 4th quarter.

    The best offenses in the NFL all feature versatile, capable pass-catching tight ends as teams need more ways to create mismatches with defenses in the passing game. Mychal Rivera, who is now the team’s second-leading pass catcher with 48 receptions, is showing that he can be that for the Raider offense in the years to come. While not as big as elite tight ends like Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, he is big enough, and compares well to the Dolphins’ Charles Clay, both in size and in versatility, as well as with the Raiders’ very own Marcel Reece. He is too big for cornerbacks if split wide, but too athletic and quick for linebackers over the middle and underneath.  He is also a very capable blocker if he doesn’t have to engage off the line of scrimmage, allowing the Raiders to line him up as a fullback or up-back and present the very real threat of the run but also the very real possibility of using him as a receiver from that spot. Rivera, if he can remain consistent as a pass-catcher and continue to develop as a blocker, can be an every-down, every-package player for the Raiders, and could develop into one of Derek Carr’s best targets for years to come.