Just two years ago Mychal Rivera was the Raiders second receiver with 58 receptions for 534 yards as a starting tight end. Now reports have the Raiders placing the 25-year old tight end on the trade block. Oh how times have changed.
Last offseason, the Raiders signed former Buffalo Bills tight end Lee Smith to a three-year contract worth over $9 million with $3 million guaranteed. Reggie McKenzie then turned around and selected Miami tight end Clive Walford with the team's third round pick. The two moves pushed Rivera down the depth chart and he finished last season with a meager 280 receiving yards.
What this move shows is that the Raiders are very confident in Clive Walford and want to expand his role going forward.
After missing the majority of the 2015 pre-season workouts with injuries, Walford struggled in the first half of his rookie season. But as he became accustomed with the offense and developed some chemistry with Derek Carr, he showed Raider Nation is incredible potential.
The University of Miami has boasted many star tight ends including Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen, Jeremy Shockey, and Kellen Winslow. Yet, it was Walford that finished as Miami's all-time leader among tight ends with 121 catches for 1,753 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Complete tight ends that are successful as both pass catchers and blockers are rare in the NFL. For example, Mychal Rivera helped the Raiders in the passing game but was a liability as a blocker. Lee Smith on the other hand is one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL but provides little to no impact in the passing game. This makes it difficult to employ either one as the primary tight end.
Walford on the other hand is the rare breed that truly can do it all. "He's not only a receiver or a blocker-type guy," Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie told the media. "He's a guy that's big and strong enough to pound it versus the D-linemen and he can flex out and run the routes and be that pass receiver. He's pretty much the total package. We don't think he's one-dimensional."
Head coach Jack Del Rio reiterated this message calling Walford a "complete tight end," adding that Walford is "a good-size guy that is a very capable blocker, who is also a guy who has the athleticism to be a threat as a route runner. So when you combine those things, you feel like he's got a lot of upside in terms of being a complete tight end, a guy who can do a little bit of both."
Quarterback Derek Carr also sees the potential Walford brings to the table. "He's a big-play guy," Carr said. "We saw it in college. In big games, he made big plays."
The Raiders willingness to trade Mychal Rivera could also signal their confidence in undrafted second year tight end Gabe Holmes.
"The Raiders love the potential this former basketball player possesses," said SB&P Lead Writer Levi Damien in his evaluation of the Raiders tight ends. "Enough that they called him up to the active roster late last season just to keep other teams from trying to sign him off of their practice squad."
At 6'5", 260 lbs, Holmes has the size coveted for the tight end position and he ran a 4.7 40-yard dash at his pro day which would have been third best among tight ends at the combine for his class. This could be a sign that Holmes is turning a corner and using his athleticism to create results on the practice field.
With Walford and Holmes as the two primary pass catching tight ends, the Raiders have the flexibility to use Lee Smith as a blocking tight end which is where he makes his money. That would give the Raiders a complete tight end in Walford, a tight end with a ton of potential in Holmes, and a solid run blocking tight end in Smith. This makes Rivera expendable and the Raiders are hoping they can get a decent prize in return for him.