Since Zach Miller left the Oakland Raiders, the team has struggled mightily to replace his production. In three of his four years in silver and black, Miller was the team’s leading receiver, and made the Pro Bowl after the 2010 campaign. After his Pro Bowl season, Miller signed with the Seattle Seahawks.
Since then, six different players have started at tight end. Collectively they averaged 56 catches for 613 yards and 4 touchdowns, although Brandon Myers’ 2012 season, being Carson Palmer’s sole outlet option, inflated the average.
2013 saw an entirely new tight end crew. General Manager Reggie McKenzie spent two sixth round picks on tight ends: Nick Kasa from Colorado and Mychal Rivera from Tennessee. They also signed Jeron Mastrud as depth. Mastrud started the majority of the season, but was primarily used as a veteran blocker. Eventually, the Raiders phased in Kasa as a blocker as well.
Rivera became their primary pass catching tight end. Although undersized (6-3, 214) and lacking elite speed, he had a sure pair of hands. The coaching staff trusted him enough to play him 58% of the snaps, catching 37 passes for 407 yards.
The Raiders also have David Ausberry, their 2011 draft pick. Ausberry spent 2013 on injured reserved with a shoulder injury. Unlike the other tight ends under contract, Ausberry has good speed, and had promise as a starter.
The position is one the team could upgrade on if they find a cheap alternative to Rivera. The only upgrade on Rivera is either someone with deep speed to stretch the field, or a version of Rivera that is an able blocker.
Cheap options in free agency include Dustin Keller, Anthony McCoy, and Andrew Quarless. In the later rounds of the draft, AC Leonard and Xavier Grimble could be talented options. If they feel like taking a risky 7th round or undrafted flyer on him, Colt Lyerla would be a game changer for Oakland, if he can stay out of trouble.
While it isn’t a position of great need, the Raiders could upgrade the tight end spot, especially if an option comes along that could bring a game changing factor to the team. But for now, the Raiders can sit pretty with Rivera as their pass catcher with Kasa blocking.