Oakland Raiders: Full Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Tight End
The tight end position is one of several on the Oakland Raiders’ roster that will have a relatively wide-open competition throughout training camp and the preseason.
The current group is without any proven talent, instead featuring a number of high-potential players that could conceivably develop into productive players with some work.
Such a dynamic makes the competition all the more interesting overall, as any one player can make use of the offseason and see significant improvements to their game.
Here is a full position breakdown and depth chart analysis of the Raiders’ tight end position heading into 2014.
No. 4: Brian Leonhardt
Brian Leonhardt will start toward the bottom of the Raiders’ tight end depth chart, but due to the lack of proven talent and production at the position, he can’t be ruled out in the preseason competition.
An undrafted free agent in 2013, Leonhardt spent the entire season on the practice squad.
In a group filled with high-potential receivers, he will have an opportunity to make himself stand out with his ability as an in-line blocker.
Should Leonhardt prove capable of contributing on special teams as well, a roster spot could certainly be within reach heading into the regular season.
No. 3: Nick Kasa
Nick Kasa will be one of the more interesting names to watch in this position battle throughout training camp and the preseason.
While he didn’t contribute until the latter part of his rookie year, his physical ability could eventually allow him to become the most well-rounded tight end on the roster.
A sixth-round selection out of Colorado, with a 6’6”, 265-pound frame, Kasa possesses both the strength to hold up as a blocker inside, as well as the speed to create separation downfield.
In evaluating Kasa as a player, it is important to keep in mind that the tight end position is still relatively new to him overall, as it wasn’t until late in his junior season that he made the transition from defensive end.
Considering that, another full training camp of work will be key for him and his development moving forward.
Although there are other tight ends on the roster that may be better receivers at this point, Kasa’s blocking ability could certainly see him challenge for the most snaps of any Raiders tight end.
No. 2: Mychal Rivera
With David Ausberry missing the entire 2013 season, Mychal Rivera stepped up as a rookie and became the Raiders’ primary receiving tight end throughout.
By season’s end, seeing situational snaps, Rivera totaled 407 yards and four touchdowns on 38 receptions, showing an ability to get downfield and make catches in traffic.
Now, with Ausberry back from injury, Rivera will likely be competing directly with him for that role, making for the kind of roster battle we should see carry over into the regular season.
Although Ausberry holds the early advantage for 2014, Rivera could have the higher ceiling overall, especially considering head coach Dennis Allen named him one of the roster’s young foundation pieces for the future.
To see regular snaps, Rivera needs to improve his ability as a blocker, but the necessary strength and technique for which are certainly things that can be developed at the NFL level.
Either way, expect Rivera to be in the thick of the competition for the starting spot at tight end, as a second full offseason as a pro could do a lot for his development.
No. 1: David Ausberry
The Raiders have been waiting several seasons now for David Ausberry to reach his true potential, and he once again enters this season as the favorite for the starting role.
While he—like several others—needs work as an in-line blocker, there is no doubting his ability as a downfield target in the passing game.
A former receiver in college, Ausberry can create matchup problems over the middle of the field for linebackers and safeties in coverage, and he is easily the Raiders’ best athlete at the position.
For him, the key will be to stay on the field and take advantage of the snaps that will contribute to his ongoing development as a tight end.
Of course, continuing to add strength and improve as a blocker will be important to earning snaps as well, but his main role will come as a pass-catcher either way.
If he can stay healthy, Ausberry should remain atop the tight end depth chart heading into the regular season, having an opportunity to show he can develop into the weapon the Raiders have hoped he’d become all along.