As the NFL continues to evolve, the tight end position has become an opportunity for offenses to gain a significant mismatch on defenses. The Patriots and Chiefs use this to their advantage every year, but it has been quite some time since the Silver & Black had a solid trio of tight ends.
While there was optimism heading into last season that Jared Cook, Lee Smith, and Clive Walford could break that trend, Cook was the only one that made an impact on the Raiders offense. Perhaps, a large reason for that was the offensive scheme those tight ends played in.
Under former offensive coordinator Todd Downing, what was formerly a dynamic offense became static and one-dimensional, and defenses had no problem predicting what plays Oakland would run. Jon Gruden and offensive coordinator Greg Olson are looking to change that in 2018 as they want their offense to be adaptable to any situation — the tight end unit in particular due to their versatility.
“Excited about that position group just because of the different skill set that each of them has,” Olson told the media after Tuesday’s OTA practice. That group starts with Jared Cook who was the Raiders leading receiver in 2017.”
In his first season with the Silver & Black, the nine-year veteran totaled 688 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 54 receptions. His 1.51 yards per route run ranked 12th among tight ends in the NFL, and was the highest mark by an Oakland tight end since Brandon Myers in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus.
Olson envisions Cook as “The athletic F tight end” in the Raiders offense. While he will be the premier receiving tight end in the unit, he also improved his run and pass blocking this past year.
Next in the group, “you have the real old school power tight end in Lee [Smith],” Olson continued. “I think Derek Carrier is kind of the flex guy. He can kind of do a little bit of both.”
Smith has long been considered one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. While he is more of a one-dimensional player than Cook, Gruden will get around this by running plenty of two-tight end sets leaving the offense unpredictable. If both Cook and Smith are in, the Raiders could have success both running or passing, making it difficult for defenses to key plays based on the personnel.
The wildcard of the unit is Derek Carrier who was recently signed to a three-year deal. Despite being used as a run blocker on over 73% of his snaps last season with the Rams, Oakland envisions the six-year veteran having an impact in both the rushing and passing attack. He is a former college wide receiver, so he has good hands, and he has developed his blocking throughout his NFL career.
“Just that group there, they’ve all had experience playing in the league,” Olson added. “They work well together. They respect one another. It’s just good to see that group and see that experience level at that position. Excited about those three.”
Between the tight ends and wide receivers, Derek Carr should have plenty of weapons to return the offense back to it’s 2016 form. And with many of those players having unique skill sets, the Silver & Black should be able to keep defenses on their feet.
“We just have a lot of new, moving pieces to our offense,” said Jared Cook. “A lot of times a tight end has to do a lot, has to be moved around a lot, play a lot of different positions and I think there’s a lot more of that this year than last year.”