At the tight end position in the NFL, all the talk revolves around the receiving tight end. If you wanted proof of this, just see the case Jimmy Graham is presenting as to why he deserves to get the franchise tag money of a wide receiver. It's because he lines up as a receiver as much as he does a conventional tight end.
For the Raiders, they have David Ausberry and Mychal Rivera as pass catchers. Ausberry was set to become the starter last season before being lost for the season with a shoulder injury. Rivera replaced him and showed some impressive receiving skills. Ausberry comes in as the number one guy yet again but Rivera proved he is worthy as well, which makes for a bit of competition for catches.
While the Grahams of the world make the flashy catches and get all the headlines, every team needs the guy who will stand in and block. After all, it's pretty tough to get the ball in Graham's hands if the quarterback is on his back.
The same applies to the Raiders with Ausberry and Rivera. Having those two as the top two tight ends could work out well but team still needs a guy to fill that very non-glorious role of blocking tight end.
Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said during minicamp that Ausberry and Rivera "have separated themselves" at the tight end position. I asked him about the competition for that next spot after them.
"Both of those players, Ausberry and Rivera, their true positions are more of an ‘F,' because they're serviceable blockers but they're not dominant blockers," said Olson. "There aren't a lot of those in the NFL at the tight end position. If you're looking for a true ‘Y,' we're hoping the other two tight ends, [Nick] Kasa and Bemidji [Brian Leonhardt], might be able to fill. We won't know that until we get to the fall when we get the pads on and are able to strike somebody and play in a live game situation. We'll found out a little bit about the tight end situation in the fall."
In case anyone is wondering, Brian Leonhardt went to Bemidji State which is why Olson referred to him as "Bemidji".
With Ausberry out last season, Rivera, Jeron Mastrud, and Nick Kasa were the team's tight ends. Leonhardt spent the season on the team's practice squad while Mastrud was not brought back and recently signed with the Bears. That naturally gives Kasa and Leonhardt the inside track on the competition for that third tight end spot. But nothing is guaranteed and now there is fresh competition in the building.
Leonhardt was a tryout player last season with a great story. He flew well under the radar for most teams coming out of college. He isn't flashy but is serviceable in both blocking and receiving.
The new tight ends on the roster are Jake Murphy and Scott Simonson - both of whom are undrafted free agents.
Simonson has a similar story to Leonhardt. He was a standout at a little known college (Assumption College) and earned an undrafted free agent contract.
Murphy has a stronger resume as he played for Pac-12 school, Utah. He put up good numbers over the past couple seasons for the Utes and has very good size (6-4, 250).
It may not be incredibly exciting figuring out who the third tight end will be on this roster, but it is absolutely vital. The Raiders drafted Nick Kasa last year and are hoping he can develop into that player but if he doesn't there are a few other hopefuls who are eager to take that role.