The Las Vegas Raiders made an interesting move during the early stages of training camp by cutting tight end O.J. Howard less than two weeks into practice. Howard, a free agent signing in the offseason, was expected to at least compete for a roster spot as the team’s blocking tight end.
While it’s just a matter of time before rookie second-round pick Michael Mayer takes over the starting job for the Raiders, Dave Ziegler, Josh McDaniels and a handful of other offensive coaches have mentioned several times how Mayer needs to improve as a blocker. Hence the speculation that Howard could make the team.
However, now that the veteran tight end is gone, Las Vegas is left with Mayer, Austin Hooper and Jesper Horsted as the three most likely players at the position to make the 53-man squad. However, Hooper is known more for his pass-catching abilities and Horsted is a converted wide receiver, leaving the Silver and Black with a need for the blocking tight end mentioned above.
So, who will take on that role? From the sounds of it, fullback Jakob Johnson might be the guy.
Johnson has reportedly been taking reps with the running backs—as expected—but also has been mixing in with the tight ends. When asked about splitting time between two positions, essentially, he confirmed that a bigger role in the offense will be in store for him this season.
“I used to be in the tight end room,” Johnson said, presumably talking about his time with the New England Patriots. “Here I’m in the running back room. But the fullback, especially in this offense, there’s so many different places that you can be that you have to be ready for. So yeah, I just try to take a little bit from everybody.”
During his last two seasons in New England, the former Patriot took about 65 snaps as an inline tight end, per Pro Football Focus. While that number might seem insignificant, that accounted for about 10 percent of his snaps during the timeframe which is a lot seeing as it wasn’t his primary position.
Johnson has made a name for himself in the NFL as a punishing blocker, helping the offenses he’s played for average 4.7, 4.4 and 4.8 yards per carry as a team. It’s also worth mentioning that he had a hand in paving the way for Josh Jacobs to win the rushing title last season.
In other words, Johnson certainly has the potential to fill the blocking tight end role the Raiders are looking for.
However, the fullback will need to improve his receiving skills to keep defenses honest and avoid tipping the play call if he does end up taking on this new position. In four seasons, he’s caught 18 passes for just 93 yards, one touchdown and five first downs. Johnson’s numbers were even worse last year with five grabs for a measly 10 yards with no scores or chain-moving plays.
So, this will be something to keep an eye on during the preseason as it will be interesting to see how the Raiders use him. It sounds like we can expect to see him at tight end more frequently than the 21 reps (out of 302 offensive snaps) he got there last year. Also, what plays McDaniels dials up while Johnson is in the game will be noteworthy.