The Oakland Raiders have four tight ends, three of them were sixth-round picks, and the fourth was a seventh rounder. These four players have a combined total of 12 NFL catches for 117 yards, and the two players most likely to start are both rookies.
Many recent power and talent rankings have listed the Raiders dead last. GM Reggie McKenzie decided to use 2013 to absorb the gigantic cap hits generated by cutting contracts signed before he arrived, filling out what’s left of last year’s roster with one-year deals for journeymen who’ll be off the books by next season. I agree with McKenzie’s moves, but unfortunately, I also agree with the assessment of the talent in Oakland at the moment — but that is by design.
The Raiders are going struggle to win games this season, there’s just no getting around it. But they’ll do so without tossing inflated contracts at aging vets or making awful trades, and when the dust settles, the Raiders should have more cap space than any team in the NFL next season, because of McKenzie’s patience and discipline. And in 2014, the Raiders general manager won’t be battling the rest of the NFL with one of his freckled hands tied behind his back.
I see the 2013 season as a unique opportunity to get extended looks at players who might normally be special teamers, a few may just seize their chance to shine, and no position offers more opportunity than tight end.
One of the costs of accelerating bonus money into the 2013 salary cap was losing Brandon Myers, one of the Raiders only bright spots last season. The tight end led the team with 79 catches and 806 yards, but now TE is the only roster position in Oakland with less experience than quarterback.
The two incumbents are David Ausberry, a converted wide receiver, and Richard Gordon. Ausberry will likely still be in the rotation, but both players were here when McKenzie arrived, and the new GM didn’t spent two draft picks at one position because he thought the solution was already on the roster. (The raiders also signed a pair of undrafted blocking specialists, rookie Brian Leonhardt and fourth year vet Jeron Mastrud, who had one catch in three years with the Miami Dolphins).
McKenzie selected two very different types of TE’s in the sixth round of April’s draft, they’re both 22 years old, and either Nick Kasa or Mychal Rivera will almost certainly be starting on opening day in Indianapolis.
I’ve said before the Raiders should choose players with more upside when doling out snaps this fall, but Rivera is a more polished receiver at this stage and tight ends can be a security blanket for developing quarterbacks, which applies to every QB on Oakland’s roster. Then again, the enormous Kasa is already an outstanding blocker, and Darren McFadden is this offense’s most imposing weapon, which ultimately may be more important.
Here are the pedigrees on the two Raider rookies battling at TE:
Nick Kasa, selected 172nd overall, 6’6” 269 pounds, played just one season at tight end for the Buffs, caught 25 ball for 391 yards and 3 touchdowns (his 15.6 ypc led the team). Colorado was one of the worst teams in the country last year, going 1-11, scoring under 18 points a game with three QB’s passing for just 2,310 yards. Kasa was ranked No. 42 overall in the country out of high school — as a defensive end.
Mychal Rivera, selected 184th, 6’3” 242 pounds, played three seasons at Tennessee. As a junior he had 29 catches for 344 yards and in his senior year Rivera made 36 catches for 562 yards and 5 td’s. The Vols went 5-7 last year (1-7 in the SEC), scoring 36.2 ppg while passing for 3,787 yards, and six of its 2012 offensive players are in NFL training camps right now.
Rivera put up better numbers his senior year, but he actually contributed a smaller percentage of Tennessee’s passing offense than Kasa did in his first season ever playing the position at Colorado. Here are the combine drills both players completed:
Kasa 4.71 40-yard-dash, 22 bench-press reps, 31.5” vertical, 9’5” broad jump.
Rivera 4.81 40-yard-dash, 17 bench-press reps, 31” vertical, 9’4” broad jump.
The scouting report on Rivera says he’s a good chain-mover with solid hands but not dynamic as a receiver. He gives effort as a blocker but he’s undersized and it won’t ever be his strength, and his 4.81 40-time isn’t considered explosive enough to offer great upside.
Kasa’s breakdown is nearly the opposite. Perhaps ready to take on NFL opposition as a blocker from day-one, his route-running and short-area quickness need a lot of work, even though his straight-line speed is very impressive. He offers ideal size for his playing style, and he could develop into a weapon in a run-first offense on play-action shots downfield. Almost universally, scouts consider Kasa to have more upside, but he’s very unpolished as a receiver.
At the end of the day I think both players will see the field quite a bit this season, but Kasa seems much more likely to playing a significant role for the Raiders down the road.
But I’d also be shocked if offensive coordinator Greg Olson didn’t use the inexperience at tight end as a reason to get more creative with one of the NFL’s most explosive fullbacks. Expect Marcel Reece to find some extra snaps during double TE sets, perhaps sometimes lining up in the slot, or walking up to the line of scrimmage as a blocking tight end drops to fullback.
A player like Nick Kasa possibly blossoming into a contributor is exactly the kind of opportunity the 2013 Raiders roster can offer young players that most NFL depth charts cannot. Hopefully Nicka Kasa earns the title of starting tight end, and makes his gigantic self a home there.