Tight end is possibly the youngest and least experienced position on the Oakland Raiders’ roster. The closest thing to a veteran is fourth year player David Ausberry (who missed all of 2013 due to injury). Besides Ausberry, the Raiders have second-year players Mychal Rivera, Nick Kasa and Brian Leonhardt, as well as two rookies in Jake Murphy and Scott Simonson.
In all likelihood, the Raiders will only carry three tight ends. Those spots are all but spoken for by Ausberry, Rivera and Kasa. Ausberry was the favorite to start last season, but spent the year on IR with a shoulder injury. Rivera stepped into Ausberry’s role and played admirably as a rookie. He finished third on the team in receptions (38), fourth in receiving yards (407) and his four receiving touchdowns put him in a tie with Rod Streater for second, one scoring catch behind Denarius Moore.
Kasa is still raw — he converted from defensive end to tight end late in his college career — but he has potential to be a solid all-around player. If the Raiders carry a fourth tight end it would most likely be Leonhardt, with Murphy and Simonson likely competing for a practice squad position.
By all appearances, the starting job will come down to a competition between Ausberry and Rivera, two tight ends who excel in the passing game. Both have shown the ability to be valuable receiving weapons, but blocking could be a question. However, Rivera graded out fairly well on Pro Football Focus, earning positive scores (barely, but that still put him near the head of the pack as far as the 2013 Raiders were concerned) both as a run and pass blocker.
Either way, the title of starting tight end may wind up being more ceremonial than a true indicator of playing time. New Raiders quarterback Matt Schaub is known for leaning on his tight ends, and with the way that position is utilized in today’s NFL, both guys will likely see a lot of time.
Having two capable receiving tight ends could open up the Raiders’ offense, allowing them to run two tight end sets and theoretically create mismatches. It also allows for keeping both players fresh late in games. The Raiders may not have an obvious star at the position, but with two very solid players available in a platoon-style rotation they should be able to get respectable production.
As the Raiders’ only tight end who excels in blocking, Kasa will likely see his fair share of time as well — especially close to the goal-line in heavy formations and on special teams. Overall, the top three on the depth chart have shown promise. Ausberry made strides before his injury, and Rivera showed an impressive amount of improvement throughout his rookie season. If they continue down that path, tight end could end up being a position of strength.
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