We move on to the tight ends as I work through the positions and players on the Raiders draft radar. Along with the player, I include the round in which the Raiders would be likely to take the player should he be available with their pick in that round.
There aren't many positions for the Raiders in more need of a shot in the arm than tight end. The Raiders have lost their starter in each of the past three seasons. Currently they have David Ausberry, Richard Gordon, and Mickey Shuler who, between the three of them, have a combined total of 14 NFL catches. Ausberry and Gordon showed some promise in camp last year but it didn't show up on the field in the regular season. Ausberry seems the most likely to break out at some point but the team can't afford to take the chance on that not happening.
Here are those tight ends who show up on the Raiders draft radar:
Zach Ertz, Stanford - Round 2
Right across the Bay from Alameda is one of the best tight ends in college football last season - Zach Ertz. The East Bay native (Danville) would probably jump at the chance to remain home for his NFL career. The entire Raiders coaching staff was at the Stanford Pro Day in March where Ertz was a main attraction. His 69 catches for 898 yards and six touchdowns helped earn him first-team All American and first-team Pac-12 honors and the Cardinal the Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl victory. He has great size (6-6, 250 pounds), speed (4.7 40-yard dash), and played in a Pro style offense at Stanford. The Raiders would have to trade down in the first round and get picks in the second round for them to take a shot at Ertz if he is still on the board at whatever pick they would receive.
Gavin Escobar, San Diego State - Round 3
Much like tight ends for the Raiders four out of the last five seasons, Escobar was the leading receiver in the Aztecs offense last season. His 42 catches for 543 yards, and 6 touchdowns were all team bests. He had even better numbers his junior season. He did this despite the SDSU offense often lining up without a tight end, including, more times than not, to start the game. He has the size (6-6, 255 pounds) and speed (4.78 40-yard dash) of a prototypical receiving tight end. He was a finalist for the Mackey award last season and if he were on a better offense, he might've won it. In my view, he is as good as any tight end in this draft and it is possible he never even makes it to round 3.
Vance McDonald, Rice - Round 4
Vance has all the tools to be a complete tight end. He has good size (6-4, 262 pounds) and long arms which add a couple inches to his catch range. He possesses a nice combination of hands and blocking abilities. Outside of an ankle injury that caused him to miss three games as a sophomore and a shoulder injury that caused him to miss two games as a senior, he has been a steady performer for the Owls the past three seasons.
Mychal Rivera, Tennessee - Round 6
Rivera made All-SEC AP second-team tight end last season and his 562 yards receiving is a new single-season record for a Tennessee tight end. Jason Witten had the previous record of 493 yards set back in 2002. One of Rivera's more surprising stats is finishing out his career at Tennessee with catches in 18 consecutive games. Not surprisingly, Rivera is known for having terrific hands. Where he lacks is his size (6-3, 237) and speed (4.8 40-yard dash). His blocking is suspect but he draws comparisons to the Patriots' Aaron Hernandez so obviously, if used properly, he could be valuable. Reggie McKenzie got an up close and personal look at Rivera at the Tennessee Pro Day.
Justice Cunningham, South Carolina - Round 7-FA
Cunningham is considered as primarily a blocking tight end even thought he caught 50 passes in his college career including 23 for 324 yards as a senior. The Raiders wanted to get a closer look to see for themselves if Cunningham might be an underrated receiver so they recently had him for a pre-draft visit. The team's current blocking tight end is Richard Gordon who was chosen in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. Gordon had all of 10 catches in his entire college career and has had just 3 total catches in two seasons in the NFL. Adding a guy like Cunningham who is a well established blocker but could also add a threat in the receiving game would be a very good thing.