A very encouraging off-season saw many contributors added to the Raiders. It also saw some key depatures. Chief among them was Jared Cook who left as a free agent to sign with the Saints. Cook was the best receiver in Silver and Black last season. The lone bright spot on offense, Cook proved to be Carr’s security blanket for much of the season.
The veteran tight end is one of the few tight ends in the NFL with devastating run after catch ability and who can also stretch the seam. Cook could line up in-line as a traditional Y tight end or split out wide and create a tough mismatch for any defense. He leaves big shoes for incumbent tight ends on the current roster including Darren Waller, Derek Carrier, Paul Butler, Luke Willson, and of course Lee Smith.
The current tight end room has different flavors, each of whom can add something special to the team from leadership, blocking, athleticism, or even special teams. None of the current group of tight ends however has shown the ability to fill Cook’s shoes.
Should the Raiders feel the need to add a player to this group there are several prospects with upside whom the Raiders could target at some point in the draft. This year’s crop of tight ends is almost universally considered to be one of the most talented in years. Here’s a few who could intrigue the Raiders at various points in this draft.
Noah Fant, Iowa — Round 1
Fant came into the season as the consensus number one tight end. The emergence of another tight end on the Iowa roster however seemed to supplant him as the favorite. Fant’s teammate TJ Hockenson likely won’t be there when the Raiders figure to begin looking at the position later in round one.
Both Fant and Hockenson are clearly the best tight ends in the draft. Fant might have more upside even considering his rare athleticism for the position posting elite numbers at the combine (4.5 40 yard dash, 39.5-inch vertical, 6.81 3-cone drill). He is often labeled as an athletic tight end who is more of a receiver but this isn’t the whole truth. Fant is one of the better blockers in this class showing great technique and effort as an in-line run blocker. Fant has the ability to line up anywhere in an offense and could turn out to be a similar mismatch weapon that Cook has been in the NFL.
Dawson Knox, Mississippi — Round 3
Knox is an interesting prospect because he simply wasn’t used much as a receiver during his time at Ole Miss. When the ball was thrown his way, however, he looked darn good. A former basketball star, Knox is well known for being an elite athlete for any position. Knox churned out a 40 in the 4.5 range at the 2019 combine and performed solid to great in the rest of the drills.
Knox isn’t just a great athlete, he proved to be a great blocker at Ole Miss not only at the line of scrimmage but downfield springing the his talented teammates free for long runs. Knox is all projection at this point because he wasn’t asked to catch the ball much in college. Because of his upside, many are quick to overlook the fact he had zero total touchdowns and only played in 18 games over 3 college seasons. A former walk-on who had to earn his scholarship, he a fun prospect to root for. The Raiders have been known to make bold moves in the draft. One team will fall in love with Knox enough to pull the trigger and it could happen day 2.
Caleb Wilson, UCLA — Round 4
Wilson is the other tight end with great yardage production amassing 1679 yards in college football. Wilson did this against Power 5 opponents. He has prototypical size like other tight ends on this list but may not be as incredible of an athlete. Wilson did run 4.56 in the 40 yard dash but scored below average in just about every other drill including a 29 inch vertical which is very poor for any NFL player who is not a linemen.
Wilson’s speed shows up on tape, more smooth than athletic, Wilson glides through secondaries with ease. When it comes to elevating for catches however, he isn’t as gifted in this area. Wilson is a willing run blocker who lacks the strength and hip drive to be truly effective. Overall Wilson projects as a receiving tight end who could develop into a more traditional role at some point. In round 5 there likely won’t be a better tight end left on the board.
Alize Mack, Notre Dame — Round 5
Mack is a poor man’s Noah Fant. Almost equal in size but slightly less athletic and much less productive. Mack is a very good blocker and on tape shows the ability to stretch the seam and beat defenders downfield. He doesn’t have the same wiggle as a route runner however and needs to improve his breaks at the top of the route before he can maximize his receiving ability.
A proven quality Mack possesses as a receiver at this point is his ability to win contested catches. He uses his 6’4, 250lb frame to box out defenders and he has the acrobatic ability to twist his body to haul in passes from difficult angles. If he puts it altogether, he could be one of the better tight ends in this entire class. Also his last name looks good on a Raider’s jersey so there’s that.
Donald Parham, Stetson — Round 6-7
If you haven’t heard of Parham before this article, it’s time to do some research on this athletic freak of nature. Coming from a small school, Parham has been understandably overlooked in this draft class. Once you learn his numbers however, you can never go back.
Standing at over 6’8 243lbs, Parham has 36 5/8 inch arms and a 7 foot wingspan. Not to mention a 4.7 40 yard dash combined with a 38.5 inch vertical. But Parham isn’t just a workout warrior with incredible size, he absolutely dominated FCS football. With 20 touchdowns and 2,591 yards in 3 seasons, both numbers good for best in class. No other draft eligible tight end had more than 1700 yards receiving in their college career. What makes Parham’s evaluation so interesting is that while he has world class size, he wasn’t used as a traditional tight end much in college, instead running the bulk of his routes from the slot. Parham might not be able to dominate the NFL like he did the FCS but the team who drafts him will be getting a potentially unguardable athlete.
Editor’s note: Yes, we realize the Raiders don’t have picks in rounds 3 and 6. Their projection in that round would be dependent upon the Raiders trading back into that round or perhaps being available in the following round.