Oakland Raiders: Five Bold Predictions for the 2015-16 Season

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 #4 – Clive Walford will have the best rookie season from a tight end of all time

May 26, 2015; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders tight end Clive Walford (88) catches a pass at organized team activities at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Even more than wide receiver, having a successful rookie season at the tight end position is extremely tough. Between the transition to the NFL along with finding a large role on offense, not many rookie tight ends have succeeded in their first year.

Chris Towers, writer for CBSSports.com highlights this in his piece entitled, “History not kind to rookie tight ends”.

"“According to Pro-Football-Reference.com’s play index, only 26 rookie tight ends have ever topped the 500-yard mark. Only one managed to do so last season, along with one the season before. And none have reached the 900-yard mark in a season, a mark tight ends have surpassed 54 times otherwise. Additionally, only two rookie tight ends in the last 15 years have recorded more than five receiving touchdowns in a season; both debuted in a pass-happy Patriots’ offense during the 2010 season.”- Chris Towers"

Towers makes it quite clear that rookie tight ends rarely succeed. One point he does bring up is that two Patriots tight ends were able to catch at least five receiving touchdowns. He referred to Patriots’ scheme as “pass-happy”. So one could make the inference that while Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez had extreme talent, it also helped that they were in a seemingly perfect scheme.

Seeing that Gronkowski is considered the best tight end in the league, and that he is one of only two rookie tight ends to catch more than five touchdowns his first year, we will look at his stats for comparison. In his rookie season, Gronk managed to catch 42 passes for 546 yards and 10 TD’s. Those numbers are exceptional, making the 10 TD’s from a rookie tight end seem insurmountable.

Yet, third round rookie TE Clive Walford seems to be in the ideal position to surpass those numbers. First things first, Walford needs to beat out incumbent starter Mychal Rivera. But with the team using a third round pick on him, they must have high hopes.

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Once inserted in the starting role, Walford will have a world of chances to catch the ball. Carr threw the ball almost 600 times last year, and while that number is certain to come down this season, not all of the targets can go to Cooper. He will be the second best option to catch the ball, and as Carr’s security blanket, he is certain to be a ball magnet. As a big body tight end, Walford is sure to see a lot of volume in the red zone. And it is that volume down field and in the red zone make him in a perfect scenario to beat out Gronk.

While Walford has the opportunity, he also has the physical traits to back it up. Standing 6’4″ 263 pounds, he is big enough to block when needed, but sizable enough to move downfield. He ran a 4.79 40 yard dash, which finished fourth in the class and is comparable to Bill’s Charles Clay (4.69 40), and Colts’ Dwayne Allen (4.89 40). Walford was also able to put up 20 reps on the bench press, proving that his size-speed combination can be a force to be reckoned with.

At Miami, Walford slowly improved during his three years there. His first year he caught 18 passes for 172 yards and one TD. His second year he caught 25 passes for 451 yards and four TD’s. In his third and final year Walford caught 44 passes for 676 yards and seven TD’s.

Looking at the trends, he improved his yards by around 200 yards each year and his TD’s by three. Assuming he continues his trend, he would be somewhere around 880 yards and 10 TD’s, not far off from Gronk.

Now that Walford is in a much more prominent pass catching role, he can shine and produce the greatest rookie season by a tight end of all time.

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