David Ausberry was the Raiders final pick in the 2011 draft. The former top recruit at wide receiver for the USC Trojans was seen as a project. He had switched to tight end late in his college career and still had a long way to go before he had fully made the transition. That's the kind of players NFL teams take in the later rounds so Ausberry's selection made sense.
Chosen with the Raiders pick just ahead of Ausberry was Richard Gordon who, as far as tight ends go, was the antithesis of Ausberry. Gordon was a big, bruising blocking tight end who had caught a grand total of ten balls in his college career at Miami.
With Gordon already having a grasp on the position, he saw snaps immediately as the blocking tight end while Kevin Boss and Brandon Myers saw the ball more as receivers. Ausberry didn't fit in the equation just yet.
When he arrived at 2012 training camp, he was visibly larger, and therefore looked the part of tight end much more than he had when he first arrived. But even still, the new coaching staff didn't trust him at the position because he still had yet to consistently perform his assignments.
Most of his issues were still in the area of blocking, which is what the tight end does the bulk of the time. Therefore, yet again it was Brandon Myers catching passes with Richard Gordon blocking and Ausberry as the odd man out.
Ausberry had just 7 catches that season, but one of them was this gem against now teammate, Kevin Burnett, giving us a taste of that which he is capable:
Last season he showed up for camp looking like a monster. He had packed on 13 pounds to his 6-4 frame and was now up to 258 pounds. This time, he was putting that bulk to good use.
Ausberry was a noticeably better blocker and the coaching staff had clearly decided they were finally ready to put the starting tight end job in his hands. Brandon Myers left as a free agent, and with the addition of sixth round picks Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa along with signing journeyman, Jeron Mastrud, Richard Gordon was waived. The job was Ausberry's to lose.
Things looked promising in the preseason for Ausberry, but no sooner did it start, it was over. In the second quarter of the preseason week two game against the Saints, he injured his shoulder and was out for the season. In just under six quarters, he had 3 catches for 43 yards.
Now heading into his fourth season - the final year on his rookie deal - he will have what could be his last chance to become the player the Raiders have long hoped he would. Teams don't often hold onto players as long as the Raiders have held onto Ausberry unless they see great untapped potential there.
It would be wise for the Raiders to add another tight end to the mix, most likely as a free agent, but if Ausberry shows up and performs as well as he did in camp last year, there is no reason he can't win the starting job ahead of whomever the Raiders sign.
Mychal Rivera was the Raiders top tight end last season but he is more of an H-back type. The duo of Ausberry and Rivera has the potential to be similar to that of the Patriots duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez during their three seasons together in New England. That, of course, is a high standard upon which to aspire, and without the Raiders fielding a quarterback the caliber of Tom Brady, the level of production is unlikely to be there, but the potential for a similar 1-2 punch is definitely there.
Whether that can ever happen depends on Ausberry. That's why they call them sleepers.
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