Las Vegas Raiders tight end Jesper Horsted, Dave Ziegler Josh McDaniels

Las Vegas Raiders: We Know About Both Michael Mayer And Austin Hooper – Let’s Talk Jesper Horsted

When Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler traded Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller to the New York Giants mid-March, the tight end position suddenly became an urgent need in Las Vegas. Ziegler helped patch the group in free agency by welcoming both Austin Hooper and O.J. Howard to Sin City, then put the cherry on top of the unit’s rebuild by drafting Notre Dame standout Michael Mayer in the 2023 NFL Draft.

In a matter of weeks, the Raiders’ tight end room went from an eyesore to a position of strength.

Mayer, Hooper and Howard each have a name Raider Nation is familiar with; Michael Mayer the consensus All-American, Austin Hooper the two-time Pro Bowler, and O.J. Howard the first-round pick in 2017. With Josh McDaniels as the team’s head coach – a coach well-recognized for his use of multi-tight end sets – and Jimmy Garoppolo as the starting quarterback – a signal caller who frequently targets his tight ends – fans of the Silver and Black eagerly wait to see how much damage this trio can cause.

Someone might be getting overlooked here, though. Since the duo of Dave Ziegler and McDaniels took over in 2022, only one tight end has stood the test of time; 26-year-old pass catching specialist Jesper Horsted.

You Already Know Mayer, Hooper And Howard. Now, Meet Jesper Horsted

Once thought of as the position big-body, physical athletes should line up at, tight ends have since evolved into something much greater. These days, the league’s most desirable tight ends are elite pass catchers who create instant mismatches with their athletic abilities and wide receiver-like skillsets. A receiver-turned-tight end such as Horsted is particularly interesting for these exact reasons.

Signed by Chicago after the 2019 NFL Draft, Horsted spent his first two seasons playing the same wideout position he played at Princeton. During his two-year stay with the Bears, the Ivy League graduate totaled 13 receptions for 127 yards and three touchdowns.

Both Raider Nation and those who cheer for Justin Fields have a connection with the 26-year-old. A Week 5 contest during the ’21 season put the Raiders up against the Bears in Las Vegas. At the start of the second quarter, Fields hit Horsted in the end zone for the game’s first touchdown in a match that would eventually end with a 20-6 victory by Chicago.

For the Silver and Black, this would be the team’s second-straight loss after a hot 3-0 start. For Fields, it would be his first career passing touchdown.

As we know, things have a funny way of coming full circle. Just as Jakobi Meyers had his infamous lateral against the Raiders in 2022 only to become a Raider the very next season, Horsted gave Fields his initial passing touchdown as a pro in a win against the same Las Vegas team he would sign with the following year.

Life with the Raiders

When the league officially extended the regular season from 17 to 18 weeks in 2021, the preseason was shortened to three contests instead of four for 30-of-32 teams. The two exceptions are the teams who take part in the league’s annual preseason Hall of Fame game, which is separate from the three preseason weeks where all 32 teams play three contests each. In 2022, when Horsted joined the Raiders, Las Vegas kicked off the first scrimmage game of the year by battling Jacksonville in the Hall of Fame game – meaning the team played four matches instead of three.

Horsted, now switching from receiver to tight end, didn’t take the extra time on the field for granted. Whether he was running a route, blocking for his quarterback, or helping create space on running plays, the former undrafted free agent looked excellent; this allowed him to carve a spot on the 53-man roster behind now-former Raiders Darren Waller and Foster Moreau.

Pro Football Focus gave Horsted a grade above 72.5 in every category for his efforts. As a receiver, his grade sat at 75.2. Horsted earned a grade of 72.9 when blocking pass-rushers, and 80.6 when keeping defenders away on designed runs. As a whole, the 6’3″ tight end was given an offensive grade of 79.6 by the outlet.

Opportunity didn’t present itself much during the regular season, but Horsted did get ample playing time in a Week 5 showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs. With 37 total snaps, the first-year tight end caught three passes for 19 yards, earning grades of 71.4 (pass) and 66.2 (run) when blocking.

Dave Ziegler’s lone survivor

Although Horsted didn’t get the chance to do much in 2022, he did enough to get a second contract with Dave Ziegler. Waller got dealt to New York and Moreau left to New Orleans to reunite with Derek Carr; at the season’s end, Jesper Horsted was the lone survivor at the tight end position.

There wasn’t a lot to see with the Raiders last season, but Horsted has made a career of making improbable catches at the NFL-level. Hopefully, Raider Nation gets to see some of the clips below replicated with Garoppolo throwing him the football.

*Top Photo: Chris Unger/Getty Images

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