The Raiders’ biggest offensive positional weakness in 2016 was the tight end group. Considering the overall success of the offense as a whole, it will be an area to watch for improvements throughout the Oakland Raiders’ 2017 training camp carefully.
Clive Walford battled back from an off-season injury return in 2016 and failed to emerge while given the opportunity to be a part of a strong passing attack offense. Walford’s production in 2016 was nearly identical to that of his rookie campaign, not a good sign of development.
Then Lee Smith went down in week 4 suffering a season ending injury. Smith is widely regarded as the best blocking tight end the NFL, that was a physical blow to the edges of the offensive line. Smith’s injury took away opportunities to employ heavy double tight end formations in short yardage and goal line situations. The loss of Smith forced the Raiders to use an extra offensive lineman at times against more physical defensive fronts; as they did with Denver Kirkland vs. the Broncos in Week 9. Although Smith is not a burner in the passing game, he is still a sure-handed threat to slip out for receptions. Smith has an impressive career catch rate of 83%, something an extra offensive lineman could not offer Carr in 2016.
An underwhelming Mychal Rivera rounds out the group, his fourth year with the team he saw limited playing time and production. Rivera’s final season as a Raider was his worst statistical output. A quick fall from a player who had an impressive 99 passing targets in 2014, finished with only 25 in 2016.
The Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie was quick to address the tight end position by signing the free-agent veteran, Jared Cook. Cook brings an excellent athletic threat to the position at 6’4″ and 235 lbs. Cook moves with much more finesse and speed than that of 255 lb Clive Walford. Walford has struggled to create separation from linebackers; something Cook does very well. Cook has posted a career average of 12.8 per reception; providing quite a luxury for Carr to have his big play ability added to an already lethal offense. He has already shown his large catch radius in camp, something Carr will favor when attacking the interior seams of opposing blitz-heavy defenses.
Cook’s arrival should spell a trying effort from Clive Walford to improve on sharpening his routes, rather than relying on his body to shed defenders. The tight end duo of Cook & Walford will look to improve red zone and third down efficiency as pass catching threats; while Lee Smith will be taking his violent run-blocking talents and exceptional pass protection back to the field in 2017.