Completely remade. That’s the best description of the Las Vegas Raiders tight end position.
Gone are receiving tight end Darren Waller and in-line option Foster Moreau. The Silver and Black sent the former to the New York Giants in exchange for the 100th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft (turned into speedster wide receiver Tre Tucker) while the latter wasn’t re-signed and inked a deal with the New Orleans Saints as an unrestricted free agent.
Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler re-upped special teamer and receiving tight end Jesper Horsted before inking veterans Austin Hooper and O.J. Howard in free agency. Then came the big splash, landing Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer in the second round of the draft in April.
Has the tight end spot gone from a question mark to a position of strength?
The potential is there. But potential is a funny thing because it’s utterly useless if the work isn’t put in.
Raiders Tight Ends
(By years of experience)
- Austin Hooper, 6-foot-4, 254, 8 years, 28 years old
- O.J. Howard, 6-foot-6, 251, 7 years, 28 years old
- Jesper Horsted, 6-foot-3, 237, 4 years, 26 years old
- Cole Fotheringham 6-foot-4, 245, 1 year, 25 years old
- Michael Mayer, 6-foot-4, 265, Rookie, 21 years old
- John Samuel Shenker, 6-foot-3, 242, Rookie, 24 years old
The Weakest Link Is…
Fotheringham and Shenker will have to make quite an impression to supplant their more experienced counterparts. It’s difficult to see either of the undrafted free agents beating out Mayer for a roster spot. Unless both turn heads and draw the attention of offensive coaches, the best the duo can hope for is a spot on the practice squad. Both are in-line type tight ends who can block and run routes; however, Mayer, Howard, and Hooper can do that, too.
Under The Radar…
This is a double-dip.
First, Horsted is a sneaky player, as he’s got the ability to run the deeper seam routes with his speed as a receiver-turned-tight end. But where he really contributes is on special teams. He played 190 snaps on special teams in 2022 for the Raiders and notched four tackles on the unit. At the same time, he’s the type of player who doesn’t mind doing the dirty work and will do whatever is asked of him, but you’re not going to see him stonewall defenders as a blocker often.
Howard hasn’t lived up to his first-round billing as an all-around prospect, largely due to injury, but while he isn’t a field stretcher like he was at Alabama, Howard is an effective blocker. If there was an aspect of both Waller’s and Moreau’s game that McDaniels wasn’t keen on, it was blocking, and Howard is another dirty-work type that can deliver key seal blocks or chips.
We’ll go out on a limb and highlight Mayer. While tight end is historically a tough position to transition from college to the pros, the Fighting Irish product has the NFL-made physique and rise-and-grind mentality required for success. He arrived at Notre Dame Mayer as a 19-year-old true freshman and was a starter.
Mayer’s an all-around prospect who can block, run routes, and catch the rock. He’ll have to compete with Hooper and Howard for TE1 snaps, but his potential is through the roof. Mayer may not start every game in 2023 but expect him to play a bunch.
Expect Mayer to get a long look in training camp in mid-July as TE1, but don’t be surprised if the combo of Hooper and Howard holds down the top spot early in the season. Hooper is the more productive receiving threat of the two veterans and is effective as an in-line blocker, too.
If Mayer shows he’s a quick learner in Las Vegas like he was in South Bend, then it’ll only be a matter of time before the second-rounder (35th overall) assumes the mantle of the starting tight end. And if McDaniels deploys more 12 personnel looks, that’ll put two tight ends on the field, expanding snaps for the entire group.
*Top Photo: Michael Hickey/Getty Images