The first wave of free agency has passed and the Oakland Raiders have completely revamped much of their offense. After adding an offensive tackle and three wide receivers, the Raiders are poised to be a potent veteran offense. There are three significant areas of need still on offense including an offensive guard, a running back, and tight end.
Last season the Raiders leaned hard on Jared Cook and he had a career year. One of the central issues with the Raider offense last season was their lack of deception. Oakland and Steelers had the lowest use of play action in the NFL and this makes the offense more predictable. Relying on a tight end like Jared Cook makes things more difficult for the Raider offense because nobody on defense believes in him as a blocker.
This same conundrum exists at the running back position and it will require the team to find a guy who can do it all for this offense. On the Raiders roster, there is currently a stud blocker in Lee Smith, an athletic special teamer in Derek Carrier, a developing athlete in Darren Waller, and a complete question mark in Paul Butler. What the Raiders are looking for is a do-it-all tight end and here are some guys all Raider fans should keep their eyes on.
Kahale Warring, SDSU
In a loaded draft class there are a few very sneaky prospects to keep an eye on. Kahale Warring did not rack up many reception in his college career at San Diego State, but that does not mean he does not possess the athletic traits to be a dynamic hybrid weapon at tight end. After only recording 51 receptions for 372 yards in his college career, Warring went to the combine and showed intriguing athleticism.
Warring tested in the top seven at his position in every combine test except the three cone where he came in at 11th. On tape, Warring does not show a lot of tight cuts which would reflect his three cone score. Where he is able to make an impact is as a medium to deep area route runner that is surprisingly crisp on single cut vertical routes. Standing 6’5 and weighing in at 252 pounds, Warring certainly checks all of the physical boxes. The fact that he is a developed run blocker and shows patience in pass protection is simply a bonus. As a mid to late round prospect, Warring has considerable upside.
Foster Moreau, LSU
Why nobody is talking about Moreau’s combine performance is truly surprising. He ranked in the top end of every drill in this tight end class and did so ranking as the top or top three in several drills. Combine this with his 6’4 stature and over 33 inch arms, and you have an above average build for a tight end prospect.
LSU was not known for its passing game and especially not its inclusion of the tight end position. Moreau has similar career reception numbers as Kahale Warring and an even greater athletic profile. He is also an extremely competent and fiesty run blocker showing some real chops in the trenches. What is concerning with Moreau is that he has very little examples of him competing for a contested catch. He was simply not put in that position which makes it difficult to project whether or not he can do it.
Kaden Smith, Stanford
There are only a couple of schools that seemingly produce quality tight end prospects consistently, and Stanford is one of them. Their run first pro style offense forces prospects to learn to block well, and it produces players who understand pro concepts. Stanford uses a large quantity of play action which allows the tight ends get deep and make big vertical plays. This is not a direct similarity with the Raider offense, but long striding tight ends are always a threat.
Smith produced some decent numbers in two years, but his combine performance was poor. His athletic profile came crashing down, but it does not match up to his tape. Smith showed through the season that he is a big bodied, wide radius vertical threat that can dominate contested catches. He is a refined run blocker although he may not be the most naturally strong in his lower body. As a middle round, prospect there is considerable upside, but a talent evaluator is going to have to be convinced the tape shows enough upside to ignore the lack of athleticism.
Irv Smith, BAMA
One of the most fun prospects to watch in this draft, Irv Smith is a dominating presence at times as an in line blocker. Many people will assume that because he is short he can not be a typical in line tight end. That would be a traditional view, but Irv Smith can absolutely do the job. The sophomore with only two years of playing time showed a deep skill set on tape this season.
For Alabama, Irv Smith caught 44 balls, tallying 710 yards and 7 touchdown receptions. One can see the exceptional athleticism on tape, and Smith was a dangerous threat up the seam. What separates Smith from other tight ends is his stature. Because he is shorter, he has quicker choppier footwork in his routes which allows him to make tight cuts and snap off routes lightening fast. Unlike longer tight ends, he can create separation on quick route concepts and couples that with exceptionally soft hands. Smith is a round one or two prospect and could be a day one starter for the Raiders.
TJ Hockenson, Iowa
Every Raider fan will immediately compare Hockerson to Rob Gronkowski after watching him play, and that is entirely fair. The stature, the athletic profile, and the dominant tape are very reminiscent of what talent evaluators saw when they put on Gronkowski’s college film. What is deceptive with TJ is his second gear. There are times on tape where it looks like a defender has a great angle on him in the open field, and TJ uses his athleticism to blow that defender away.
To say that he has a mean streak in the run game would be an understatement. Hockenson will get into the thickest ugliest mosh pits and come out pushing bigger guys around. He has the exact mentality a team would want for an all around tight end. Trying to find a weakness in his game is very difficult and because of that, the hype machine may get out of control for him. Hockenson is absolutely a round one talent, but there is a definite possibility a team overdrafts him.
The Odd Ball: Noah Fant, Iowa
An ideal target for the Raiders is a tight end that can do everything. Noah Fant is not that type of player, but his athletic profile is absolutely outrageous and because he is strong in both the upper and lower body, there may be some who believe he can be taught to be a competent in line blocker. There is a chance the Raiders could view Fant as a glorified receiver and decide to pair him with a second in line tight end at all times, but that would be an unexpected turn based on the team’s 2018 approach.
Fant has some of the most impressive tape as a receiving target that one will ever see. His speed, agility, and ability to attack the ball in the air is an incredible combination of skills. It is easy to project Fant into an offense like the Colts’ where they love to move tight ends into the slot and treat them as a glorified receiver that cause massive mismatches in different spots. That concept does not fit what the Raiders chose to do in 2018, which makes Fant not an ideal target, but there is nothing preventing the Raiders from completely reworking their offense to fit him in.