Mychal Rivera/Lee Smith
After bringing in just 28 receptions for 329 yards and three touchdowns last season, sophomore tight end Clive Walford is expected to emerge as a key contributor for Carr and company in 2016.
Walford, a third round pick in the 2015 NFL draft, lost the beginning of his rookie season because of several injuries that had sidelined him for a majority of the offseason. Without a lot of reps during training camp and the preseason, a combination of Mychal Rivera and Lee Smith took over as the two premier starters for a majority of the 2016 season.
With that being said, Rivera and Smith combined for just 44 receptions, 350 yards, and two touchdowns in 2015. Rivera graded out as the 57th overall tight end among the 67 eligible in 2015, while Smith pushed his overall up to 33 because of his strong run blocking and pass protection grades, per PFF.com.
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, Rivera is expected to land on the trading block after spending just three years in Oakland. In his career, Rivera, a former sixth-round pick out of Tennessee, has accumulated just 128 receptions for 1,221 yards and nine touchdowns in three full seasons with Oakland.
Smith, on the other hand, is still just one year into his three-year, $9,350,000 contract, and given the success he has had as both a run and pass blocker, he should still see a significant amount of reps regardless if Walford gets the nod ahead of him.
Unlike the rest of the young guys on this list, Walford is in full control of whether or not he starts in 2016, for it is his job to lose. With the injury bug still looming over his head, Walford will have to prove that he can stay both on the field and off the ATVs if he is going to take on a significant role in the Raiders’ offense. With weapons like Crabtree, Cooper, and Murray surrounding him, Walford should benefit from opposing defensive coordinators overlooking him in their game plans; it’s up to him to take advantage of the opportunity.