The Oakland Raiders will be tested early and often as they’ll face some of the NFL’s best tight ends
As Raider Nation takes a look at the 2017 schedule for the Oakland Raiders, it should be pointed that the defense will be tested all year-long by some of the most talented tight ends in the sport.
The last two seasons, the tight end position was a sore spot in the defense and even tough the inside linebacker position has yet to be solidified, nothing can change the fact that these players are coming in fast looking to expose a defense that hasn’t been able to prove it can stop them.
With Malcolm Smith gone, it is wondered who’s gonna take on the challenge of covering these three beasts: Will it be one of the untested rookies in Marquel Lee or Obi Melifonwu? Regardless of who steps up in this season that’s become so hyped, here’s the top five tight ends the Raiders defense will have to stop.
Delanie Walker, Titans
Don’t look now, but the defense is going to get tested right from the outset against the Tennessee Titans in the season opener when they match up against Delanie Walker. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is expected to continue improving and there’s little doubt he’ll go to his tight end early and often given the Raiders’ track record last season.
A Pro Bowler in back-to-back years, Walker has hauled in 1,888 receiving yards while scoring 13 touchdowns. Last time Walker played against the Silver and Black in 2015, he caught six receptions totaling 91 yards averaging 15.17 yards per catch in the process. Even though Walker didn’t score on that occasion, it’ll be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. approaches this matchup that might help set the tone for how the defense will be run this upcoming season.
Jordan Reed, Washington
Despite battling concussions in his young career, Jordan Reed is one of the top tight ends in the NFL when healthy and unfortunately for the Raiders, they’re gonna face him early in Week 3 where he’ll probably be healthy.
A Pro Bowler for the first time last season, Reed caught six touchdowns and hauled in 11 scores in the previous year as well. The speedy catcher will be a difficult test for the Raiders defensive front as he’s been targeted a total of 203 times so you can be sure this trend will continue against the Raiders.
Travis Kelce, Chiefs
The Raiders-Chiefs rivalry has gotten intense in the last few seasons, from coach Jack Del Rio’s “moment” with Chiefs coach Andy Reid to Travis Kelce’s antics on the field but besides the theatrics, the fact remains, Kelce will continue to be a thorn in the Raiders side for many years to come.
The last three seasons, Kelce had the Raiders’ number as he has hauled in 311 receiving yards despite only scoring once. If nothing else, Kelce will test some of these rookie Raiders right away and they’ll have to get used to it as Kelce will be on the schedule twice a year for the foreseeable.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
It’s only fitting that in the biggest game of the 2017 NFL schedule where the two teams will meet in one of the world’s biggest cities, the Raiders will face one of, if not, the very best tight end in Rob Gronkowski.
Though he’s been slowed by some injuries, the fact is that Gronk’s size, speed, and hands will be giving Norton nightmares assuming he’s healthy by the time the teams travel to Mexico City.
Jason Witten, Cowboys
In what’s probably going to be the second most nationally covered game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Raiders defense will have to deal with a future NFL Hall of Famer in Jason Witten. While many feel Witten’s skills are dropping off due to age, if he’s healthy by the time these two ultra-popular teams meet, he’ll give the defense quite a headache.
Witten’s longest reception last season was for 35 yards and he averaged 9.8 yards per catch last season, very respectable numbers at his age of 35.
The Raiders defense will be the target of so much analysis and focus this season and justifiably so with such heavy expectations, but if Norton’s defense can’t stop or slow down the tight end position, it might end up being a long season (and a short one for Norton) for the Silver and Black.