Last season the Raiders lost tight end Lee Smith to a season ending leg injury in week four. When he went out of the line up, the offense lost more than simply an in line blocker. He’s a leader and, in the view of offensive coordinator Todd Downing an underrated receiver as well.
Lee is not the kind of tight end that will break off chunk plays and have great run after the catch yardage. He is a solid pass catcher though, and one the defense must respect.
“Last year when we had to put offensive linemen in that tight end spot,” Downing said, “they would flat out disregard them as a receiver because even if we released him, they could recover and get back to him in time just because they weren’t fast enough. With Lee, he’s actually a little bit faster than you think and he has great hands. The guy catches everything we throw at him. It certainly adds that keep you honest element to our big 11 if you will, but Lee is more than just an in-line blocker for sure.”
Take for example this play from week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons. This was the Raiders’ first offensive play of the game, meaning it was scripted in the game plan. The Raiders came out in “12 personnel” with the intent of sending a message to the Falcons defense.
That message was that they had better take Lee serious as a receiver. You can tell by quarterback Derek Carr’s vision and the fact that Amari was open on his dig route, that Lee was the primary receiver on this play.
Defensive coordinators spend hundreds of hours studying opposing offenses looking for any tendencies that may give a play call away. This forces offenses to ensure they do not form habits of using players for only certain roles. This is were player flexibility is paramount.
Compare that play to how the Denver Broncos played Denver Kirkland in this clip. Even though the Bronco’s are in man coverage, they don’t give Kirkland any respect as a receiver.
Broncos EDGE Shane Ray has man coverage responsibility for ‘tight end’ (reported as eligible) Kirkland, but Ray doesn’t hesitate in pass rushing. Ray was obviously coached to disregard the Raiders eligible tackles and treat them as linemen.
Had it been Lee in this formation Ray would have had to, at the very least, react to Lee’s actions. Even if Lee stayed in to max protect, it would have slowed Ray’s pass rush reaction time. We all know the difference an extra second or two can make in determining the outcome of a play.
Having Lee back will give the Raiders more flexibility in personnel and play calling options. They will no longer have to use offensive linemen as tight ends, even though that can be fun at times.
Which tight end will have the biggest impact on the Raiders offense?
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