The Raiders issues in covering the opposing teams tight end in 2016 has been well documented. Of the 4120 passing yards the Raiders defense surrendered last season, 1091 (26%) were to tight ends. Also 7 of the 27 (25%) touchdowns scored on the defense were likewise scored by the tight ends. It won’t get easier either.
The Raiders will face five of the most dominant tight ends in the league this season, including two of those twice as they are on division teams.
Week 1: Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Right away, the Raiders will face the top graded Delanie Walker on the road in Tennessee. The former 6th round pick of the 49ers but was stuck behind fellow tight end Vernon Davis on the depth chart.
He broke out with the Titans in 2013 including a 1,088 yards and 6 touchdown 2015 campaign and a career high 7 touchdowns last season to go with 800 yards and was named to the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons. He was recently ranked #75 on the NFL’s top 100 list.
The 6’2”, 250-pounder shows his speed and power her as he shrugs off a would be tackler, then sprints for an additional 30 yards.
Week 6 & 17: Antonio Gates,
San Diego Los Angeles Chargers
While Gates only compiled 548 yards in 2016 he did score 7 touchdowns. He is coming to the end of a Hall of Fame career and has always found a way to show up against the Raiders who will of course face him twice this season — at home on week 6 and on the road in week 17.
The Raiders swept the Chargers last season despite 4 catches for 30 yards and a TD from Gates in the first meeting. The play below could have won the game for the chargers, but ended up a major reason the Raiders pulled out the 34-31 victory. Chargers Quarterback Philip Rivers recognizes man coverage by newly signed linebacker Perry Riley, alerts Gates, stares him down, makes a great throw, only to have Riley strip the ball.
Week 7 & 14: Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Travis Kelce is the other tight end on this list that the Raiders will face twice, a Thursday night game at home on week 7 and on the road week 14. Unlike the Chargers, the Chiefs dominant run is still in full swing with the Raiders having only won one game out of the last eight meetings. For this to change this season, shutting down Kelce will have to be the first priority.
In 2016 Kelce racked up 1,125 yards though only 4 touchdowns. The third round pick of the 2013 NFL Draft was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl last season as well as earning a First-team All-Pro team selection. Kelce also came in #26 in the NFL’s top 100 list.
While defending this 6’5”, 260-pound tight end is difficult in the first place, it becomes almost impossible with a guy who has such great body control. Kelce is able to use his size to both gain position and shield the ball from the defender. This is where a safety with the size of Obi Melifonwu could come in. On this play Kelce fakes a corner route, breaks back into the post, and uses his size to secure the touchdown.
Week: 15: Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
Jason Witten joins Gates as a sure fire Hall of Famer on this list. While Witten is 35 years old and coming to the end of his career, he has not missed a game in the last 10 seasons. He accumulated 673 yards and 3 touchdowns last season.
The Raiders face the Cowboys week 15 in Oakland. While stopping the run game will be paramount, eliminating the tight end as a security blanket for a young quarterback like Dak Prescott could create turnovers.
Witten may not be as athletic as he was at times in his career, but he showed he could still be an effective vertical threat. On this play Witten runs a corner route for a touchdown. This was a coverage breakdown as both the deep corner and safety covered the post route in Tampa’s quarters coverage. It is not often a guy like Witten gets left wide open and he made them pay for it.
Week 11: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
No examination of the tight end threats the Raiders will face would be complete without a look at Rob Gronkowski who the Raiders will face at home on week 11.
Injuries prevented him from having the production to make the PFF list, when healthy Gronkowski is the most dangerous pass catching tight end in the NFL.
Despite only recording a reception in six of the eight games Gronkowski was active for last season, he still put up 540 yards and 3 touchdowns. That is almost the same production Witten had while playing in twice as many games. Gronkowski was also named #23 on the NFL’s top 100 list despite missing half the season.
Gronkowski proved he was far too fast and physical on this touchdown. The Colts were playing man-2. The safety jumps the slot receivers out route leaving Gronkowski one on one with the corner on his post route. The corner has no chance on this play once he loses his help over the top.
The Raiders face a gauntlet of talented tight ends this season. The Raiders coaching staff will have to shore up a weakness that continued to pop up last season. They are hoping with additional talent through the draft and the hiring of John Pagano, they will be up for the task.
Which TE from this list will be the biggest threat?
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