An interesting position group going into the season will be tight end for the Raiders. Last year arguably the strength of the offense, Jared Cook was a pro bowler and Lee Smith a locker room leader and devastating blocker.
Jared Cook left in free agency opening up a glaring void at the receiving tight end role in the Raiders offense. And yesterday it was announced that fan favorite Lee Smith was released from his contract with the team. The tight ends on the roster are now Darren Waller, Derek Carrier, Luke Willson, Paul Butler and newly drafted 4th round pick Foster Moreau out of LSU.
The narrative around Moreau is that he is a high character football player who earned recognition from his coaches and teammates for his hard work and leadership while at LSU. Many reports indicate that Moreau is a great blocker with the athleticism to be a good all around NFL tight end. Let’s take a closer look to see if the film matches the story on Moreau.
Moreau is not a complete blocker at this point in his football career. He needs to improve his technique as well as add strength in order to not be a liability. Good news for Raiders fans, his best blocking reps were in zone schemes where he utilizes his athleticism to block on the move.
Starting with the good, Moreau isn’t the best in line blocker yet, but when he had help from his offensive line he was able to turn out a few reps like the one above. He gets hip to hip with the right tackle, driving his feet and rolling his hips through the defender before taking him to the ground.
The example above is from a zone scheme where Moreau helps the left tackle double the end before he releases upfield to “arc” block the safety. Moreau shows great fluidity in space and is able to work his way to blockers in a way some tight ends can’t.
Another example of Moreau blocking while on the move came on this counter play. Moreau is able to wall off the linebacker in the hole and help the running back get to the second level. Moreau shows great processing, quickly identifying his assignment in traffic and executing the block.
Unfortunately Moreau has twice as many bad reps blocking than good ones. This one highlights how far he has to go before he can be counted on as an-line blocker. In a single block on the defensive end, Moreau gets walked backwards into the path of the ball carrier. The defender is able to disengage and get his hands on the running back 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Moreau isn’t always able to out- athletic defenders either. On this inside zone play he comes across the formation and needs to block the end man on the line of scrimmage. He coils his body to explode through contact but ends up getting thrown to the ground by the Florida linebacker, allowing another tackle for loss. Being truthful with Raider nation, this was a common occurrence in Moreau’s tape. He is not ready to block the likes of Joey Bosa, Von Miller, and Frank Clark with any kind of success day one.
Moreau perhaps shows more upside as a receiver despite rarely ever being asked to catch the football. His combine performance put him in the elite athleticism range for tight ends posting an elite relative athletic score at his position, second only to Noah Fant in this 2019 draft class. His upside as a receiver should be where Raiders fans are most excited about his projection in the offense.
Moreau is a reliable target who can use his size (6’4’’ 250lbs) to post up defenders and secure contested catches in traffic. This is an area where tight ends must flourish in any offense and Moreau checks that box off. Per PFF, Moreau caught 81.5% of his targets in college.
Although Moreau only caught 52 passes in 29 career games, he flashed ability as a receiver who can get downfield and get extra yards after the catch. Most NFL tight ends can post up smaller defenders, but the rare ones are able to turn up field and become runners when the ball is in their hands. Moreau has the athleticism to potentially have that impact for the Raiders.
If a tight end wants to earn extra targets he needs to prove to his quarterback that he deserves it. Catches like this show Moreau has great hands and the body control to make catches even when the ball is placed awkwardly. Raiders fans have been plagued by seeing players drop catchable passes, it doesn’t seem like this will be an issue for Moreau.
Moreau likely won’t start early in his career even with the departure of Lee Smith. Luke Willson projects to be able to fill that role of in-line blocker. Moreau right now is better suited as the move tight end or “Joker” in Gruden’s offense with his athleticism and sure hands, but it’s Darren Waller who is the favorite to start in that role early on in the season.
Moreau has a chance to be a solid contributor for the Raiders in the future and is an exciting player to have on the team when taking into account his high character and work ethic. His presence in the locker room is in line with the culture Gruden and Mayock are attempting to build so in that respect he could fill Lee Smith’s shoes. However his role in the offense will likely be far different from what Smith added as a hard-nosed blocker in Silver & Black the past few seasons.