What to expect out of the tight end position for the Oakland Raiders as training camp approaches.
For the 2016 season, the Oakland Raiders had one of the more prolific offensive units in the entire league. With an elite offensive line, a solid running game and two dynamic wide receivers, the offense was an obvious strong point for the Silver and Black. But they were missing one crucial piece — a blue-chip tight end who was capable of putting a scare into opposing defenses.
When Clive Walford was drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, the coaching staff as and fans alike viewed him as the tight end of the future — a big-bodied pass-catcher who enjoyed a productive career at the University of Miami. But after two underwhelming years thus far, Walford will now take a backseat as the no. 2 option at the position, thanks to the offseason addition of Jared Cook.
Paired with the return of Lee Smith following his injury, Walford will likely find himself just about completely out of the mix on offense. Cook will take the lion’s share of snaps on passing plays, and Smith will take nearly all of the workload as the blocking tight end. Giving Walford only time in occasional two-tight end sets or when one of the first options needs a breather.
Some fans have been optimistic in saying that bringing Cook in was a ploy to motivate Clive, but him getting first or even second-team reps is something everyone should be paying attention to when training camp gets underway.
The other story line to pay attention to as it relates to the tight end position is the battle for the fourth spot — including whether or not the team will carry a fourth tight end. If so, the two players with the strongest argument to make the roster are Gabe Holmes and Pharaoh Brown.
Holmes seems to be a pet project of sorts of Reggie McKenzie, who has kept him around through two seasons of injuries. In the first preseason game of 2016, Holmes went down with a severe ankle injury, which resulted in him being placed on season-ending injured reserve. Although he has not received an extensive amount of playing time, Holmes keeps sticking around, so there is obviously something the team sees in him.
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Brown on the other hand, is coming in as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon. Before a significant leg injury in 2014, Brown had impressive athleticism and all-around skills, and was pegged as having a bright future on Sunday’s. But post leg injury, he has not quite been the same player, but despite all of that, he still possesses some serious potential when you mix in his size and receiving ability.
Even if both Holmes and Brown impress the coaching staff, it would be unique to carry four tight ends on the roster. If I were to take a guess, one of these two will be put on the practice squad, while the other is released to find another team.
Jared Cook, Lee Smith and Clive Walford seem to be the three tight ends that the Raiders will end up carrying on game days. Either way, the tight end position group is quite stacked from top to bottom, so this should be one of the more exciting camp battles that Raider Nation can expect to look forward to.