Each of the past three off-seasons has come with expectations the Raiders would make the tight end position a priority and each time that didn't happen. The one tight end who has been here for all three? David Ausberry. Not to say the team has always had high expectations of this former seventh round pick, but that certainly has appeared to be the case the past two off-seasons.
With Ausberry again leading off the Raiders tight end group, let's see how the position looks heading into training camp.
David Ausberry, Mychal Rivera, Nick Kasa, Brian Leonhardt, Jake Murphy, Scott Simonson
Davis Ausberry spent all last season on injured reserve after injuring his shoulder in the Raiders second preseason game. He returns again as the favorite to start. The team didn't sign any big name free agent tight ends or use any draft picks on the position. They added Jake Murphy (Utah) and Scott Simonson (Assumption College) as undrafted free agents.
The big question
Can Ausberry finally break through and live up to his potential?
The Raiders used their seventh round pick in the 2011 draft on wide receiver turned tight end, David Ausberry. He was always a project but he was big and had great hands. His first two seasons, he barely showed up in games, buried on the depth chart. He was a liability as a blocker and couldn't catch on to his tight end assignments. Heading into last year, he was deemed ready and he looked every bit of it in camp. He was big and strong and had improved his blocking tremendously. Then the injury happened and the team's hopes for him would have to wait another year. The fact that they didn't sign any free agents or use any draft picks on tight ends says they still believe Ausberry is their answer at tight end.
Best case scenario
Ausberry stays healthy and becomes what the Raiders expect he can be. Mychal Rivera - who had a pretty good rookie season as Ausberry's replacement - continues to offer a receiving threat in two tight end sets. Nick Kasa, Brian Leonhardt, or one of the two undrafted rookies shows they can be the blocking tight end this team needs as well. Two solid receiving targets and a blocking tight end is what every team wants from the position.
Worst case scenario
Really anything that resembles last season. Nothing against Rivera, he did well to step up as a rookie. But without Ausberry living up to his potential and Kasa taking the next step in his development, the tight end position for this team, it will be yet another year of simply going with what they have as opposed to finding the best possible trio.
Every one of the Raiders tight ends were drafted in the sixth round or lower. That includes not drafted at all. Ausberry was a seventh rounder, Kasa and Rivera were both sixth rounders last year, and Leonhardt, Murphy and Simonson all went undrafted. The Raiders haven't drafted a tight end higher than the sixth round since they took Zach Miller in the second round in 2007.
One of Ausberry's only real highlights was of him laying a vicious stiff arm on a player in Miami two seasons ago. That player was linebacker Kevin Burnett (seen above flying out of the frame after said stiff arm) who became his teammate with the Raiders last year. When Ausberry sustained his season-ending shoulder injury last preseason, it was against Miami.
Last season Nick Kasa had one catch. It came in the team's final game against the Denver Broncos. It was a touchdown. Kasa grew up in Colorado and went to Colorado University. Hey, at least he knows all his friends were watching.