Many of you probably don’t even remember Derek Carrier in his first go round with the Raiders. He went undrafted that year out of small school Beloit. In fact he is the first NFL player to come out of the school since 1925.
Carrier was a wide receiver in college who was receiving interest potentially as a tight end at the next level. But he still had to grow into it. So, when he came to Oakland as Reggie McKenzie’s first undrafted free agent classes, he had an uphill battle on his hands.
The 6-3, 238 pounder didn’t make the team out of camp and was waived. But several other teams wanted to give him a shot as well. First the Eagles signed him, but he didn’t see action in a game. Then the 49ers picked him up and he finally saw action.
Now six years four teams and 50 games later, Carrier is back to where his career began, but never quite got off the ground.
“This is right where it began for me,” Carrier said of Oakland. “Great experience coming into the NFL and kind of being able to get my feet wet. It’s very nice to be able to come back here and be able to contribute to this organization once again.”
He’s a different player now. He’s bulked up some and apparently even grew an inch as he’s now listed at 6-4, 244 pounds. The 27-year-old is also a lot wiser. He now considers himself an “All-around tight end.” And his 3-year deal — the longest of his career — is proof of that.
“I think physically,” Carrier said of how he’s changed since he was in Oakland before. “Just understanding what kind of condition, how strong I need to be to be able to compete down in and out in the NFL. I think mentally too more than anything. Just kind of understanding what it takes to be successful and having a stick-to-it-iveness and just mental toughness about getting after your dream and keep grinding every day.”
Being a tight end means having a rare combination of size, receiving skills, and blocking abilities. In that way, it’s quite a bit different than being a wideout. So, it’s not often you see a wide receiver not only make the transition to tight end, but transition to a blocking tight end as Carrier has done.
“Obviously when I came into the league as a wide receiver and now being a tight end, my blocking has just grown incredibly,” Carrier continued. “And that’s not to say that I’m done growing, I still have areas of my game that I can improve all around. That’s just something that I take pride in, just trying to get better and being the best complete player and teammate that I can be here.”
Carrier said Gruden has not outlined the areas he would like him to focus on or his specific role in the offense. The team also re-signed blocking tight end Lee Smith and added fullback Keith Smith. So, you’d have to think the Raiders will try to make more use of Carrier’s hands (so to speak) than his previous teams have (he has just 36 career receptions).
Gruden probably has a pretty good idea of what kind of player Carrier is. He spent two seasons in Washington under Jon’s brother Jay, starting a career high 11 games in 2015. That should also help Carrier to quickly get a handle on his new head coach’s offense.