Denver Kirkland Finds a Home at Tight End
Just four weeks into the season, the Raiders lost their starting tight end Lee Smith to a season-ending ankle injury, leaving Oakland without their best blocking tight end. Other tight ends on the roster like Mychal Rivera and Clive Walford have attempted to fill the role in wake of the injury, but the Raiders ultimately turned to backup offensive guard Denver Kirkland to fill Smith’s shoes.
Kirkland, a rookie undrafted free agent out of the University of Arkansas, has now started in four consecutive games for Oakland at tight end, and against Denver, he earned his highest grade of the season (79.7), per PFF.com.
With Broncos edge-rusher Von Miller abusing Raiders right tackle Austin Howard early the game, Oakland moved Kirkland to the right side of the offensive line to help Howard keep Miller off the quarterback. In doing so, Miller’s impact was limited, forcing him to move to the other side and test Raiders left tackle Donald Penn.
Penn wasn’t perfect, but he did successfully prevent Miller from inhibiting Carr and the Raiders’ passing attack.
With Oakland’s outside receivers collectively leading the league in receiving yards, the Raiders can afford to insert a non-receiving tight end like Kirkland into the starting lineup, especially if he can hold his own against a Pro Bowl edge-rusher like Miller.