The Las Vegas Raiders have one of the best tight ends in football and added some further depth this offseason to an already strong group for the 2020 season.
If there is anything Jon Gruden loves more than Spider 2 Y Banana and asking players to knock on wood if they're with him it's a solid tight end. Even after the Las Vegas Raiders spent a ton of draft capital on wide receivers and versatile running backs, Gruden still claimed they would run two or three tight end sets to play what he calls "old-school football".
This may not be what many other teams are doing as the trend in the NFL has been to spread the field with multiple wide receivers and take advantage of all the rules that favor offenses in this era of the NFL. However the Raiders can still do that with the crop of tight ends they have and Gruden will be heaping the pressure on this group of guys to deliver in his West Coast offense.
Luckily for Gruden and his brand of football, the Raiders have one of the best tight ends in the league and of the best overall position groups in the NFL. Let's take a look at how the Raiders tight ends fared in 2019 and what the group will look like in 2020.
The Las Vegas Raiders found a diamond in the rough when they signed Darren Waller from the Baltimore Ravens practice squad in 2018. In his first full season as a starter, Waller burst on to the scene as one of the best tight ends in the NFL.
As Derek Carr's only consistent receiving target, Waller put up an incredible 90 catches for 1145 yards and 3 touchdowns and had an impressive 570 yards after the catch. His yards after catch numbers were good enough for 8th in the NFL and second only to George Kittle among tight ends.
Waller was rewarded with a new contract keeping him in Las Vegas for the next 3 years at around $9 million per. Even with the new additions, Waller is still the number one target for Carr and will benefit from the added weapons around him.
Rookie Foster Moreau was developing a reputation as quite the red zone threat in his first year in the NFL. Moreau recorded just 21 receptions in 13 games before tearing his ACL but 5 of those catches were for touchdowns. All 5 of Moreau's touchdowns came in the red zone with 4 of them coming from inside the 10 yard line. He was the perfect complement to Darren Waller and was a great safety valve for Carr when it counted most.
Moreau suffered his injury in Week 14 against the Tennessee Titans but all signs point to him being fully healthy and ready for the 2020 season. We can expect more of the same from Moreau but he may see his playing time reduced due to some of the new additions.
After Moreau's injury, Derek Carrier stepped in to a larger role but did not do much damage on the stat sheet as expected. Lastly, Eric Tomlinson was on the roster for the last 3 games of the season but did not record any statistics.
Additions and Subtractions
One of the Raiders big moves on the offensive side of the ball was bringing in veteran tight end Jason Witten from the Dallas Cowboys on a one-year, $4.75 million deal. The 38-year-old retired after the 2017 season but couldn't resist the call of the gridiron after a tough stint in the booth for Monday Night Football and returned in 2019.
It was clear that Witten lost his fastball but still had a relatively productive 2019, recording 63 catches for 529 yards and 4 touchdowns. He ended the year 8th in catches and 14th in receiving yards among tight ends which is all the more impressive given his age.
What's clear is that Witten still knows how to get open in tight spaces as all of his touchdowns were inside the 20, and 3 of the 4 were from inside the 10. Witten also provides a great deal of leadership given his veteran status and all that he has accomplished in his storied career.
The Raiders also signed another veteran tight end in Nick O'Leary on a one-year deal from the Miami Dolphins to bolster their depth. O'Leary has never recorded more than 25 catches in a season and is more of a blocking tight end in the Lee Smith mold.
Lastly, the Raiders signed undrafted free agent Nick Bowers from Penn State. Bowers was not very productive at Penn State and recorded just 17 catches for 214 yards in 10 games over 3 season with the Nittany Lions. He is however a big body at 6'4" 260 and could develop in to a blocking tight end at the next level.
Post-Draft Depth Chart
Most NFL teams, including the Raiders, carry three tight ends on their roster. Given Jon Gruden's love for the position, we may see the Raiders roll in to 2020 with four on the roster if they can contribute on special teams.
With that in mind, let's take a look at what the Raiders tight end depth chart looks like after the 2020 NFL Draft.
- Darren Waller
- Jason Witten
- Foster Moreau
- Derek Carrier
- Nick O'Leary
- Nick Bowers
Darren Waller and Jason Witten are 100% locks to make the roster given their status and Foster Moreau is all but a certainty after his stellar rookie season. This trio gives the Raiders one of the most dangerous groups of receiving tight ends in the NFL and Jon Gruden is definitely in the lab cooking up some formations with all 3 being deployed.
Derek Carrier was the Raiders most active special teamer, leading the team in special teams snap counts in 2019. That may be enough to lock him in to a roster spot along with any fears the team might have about Witten's age catching up to him.
That leaves Nick O'Leary and Nick Bowers on the outside looking in. O'Leary's experience and his ability as a blocking tight end but might see him land a spot but given the talent on the position he should expect to continue bouncing around the league. Nick Bowers may intrigue Gruden and Mike Mayock but he looks to be a practice squad player at best for the Raiders.
The Raiders made it a priority to surround Derek Carr with superior offensive talent and they have done so by bolstering the tight end position and giving him experienced weapons at a key position.