Should the Oakland Raiders Upgrade at Tight End?

Should the Oakland Raiders upgrade the tight end spot by drafting O.J. Howard in the first round? Is it too early to pull the plug on Clive Walford?

The NFL draft evaluation period places young prospects in the forefront. Already, a few draftees created a buzz at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL. ESPN’s Todd McShay identified Alabama tight end O.J. Howard as the standout talent during the workouts, which has many Oakland Raiders fans asking if he’s the guy at No. 24 overall.

Let’s pump the brakes on selecting Howard in the first round. Tight end Clive Walford‘s numbers don’t jump off the page, but he played in an offensive scheme that didn’t accentuate his receiving skills. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave choreographed an offense that ranked No. 7 in scoring, but he didn’t emphasize Walford’s receiving skills when the wideouts struggled with drop passes. As a result, the second-year tight end’s production remained mediocre.

The Raiders’ 2015 third-round pick has struggled with injuries, missing a big portion of the offseason in his rookie campaign. Then, he injured his knee in an ATV accident in the past summer. Though, his first two years have looked nearly identical. He’s racked up slightly more than 300 receiving yards and three touchdowns in each season with 50 and 52 targets.

We’ll put Walford’s target total in perspective; he listed fifth on the team in the category as a rookie and fourth in the previous year. His low target rate shows his place on the totem pole among the receivers on the field.

As mentioned, the Raiders wideouts clearly struggled to hold onto the football in 2016. Yet, Walford, who logged a 63.5 percent catch rate, didn’t see a significant increase in pass attempts thrown his way. In fact, he only saw 11 combined targets in quarterback Derek Carr‘s last four starts.

Three years seems like decades ago, but Walford clearly outproduced Howard as a red-zone threat when comparing their senior collegiate years side-by-side. Both tight ends played with freshman quarterbacks before entering the draft.

Clive Walford’s Senior Year vs. O.J. Howard’s Senior Year
Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Clive Walford 44 676 7
O.J. Howard 45 595 3

How many game-changing tight ends currently roam the field? Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots), Greg Olsen (Carolina Panthers) and Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs).

However, none of those clubs have a wide receiver corps comparable to the Raiders’ group. They actually need more from their tight ends. Olsen and Kelce led their respective offenses in receptions and yards during the previous campaign. Why would the Raiders select Howard in the first round and slot him as the third-best receiver for the next few years behind wideout Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree?

Like any other team, the Raiders need an impactful first-round selection, who could give the franchise 10 years with ample opportunities to reach his maximum potential. Within a wide-receiver dominated passing offense, Howard’s production outlook would have a much lower ceiling. New offensive coordinator Todd Downing has talked about enacting very few changes to the offense. Though, Carr will have more command and input on the game plan.

In 2016, the Raiders ranked No. 20 in points allowed and No. 26 in yards allowed. Clearly, general manager Reggie McKenzie must address more pressing needs on defense as opposed to upgrading an underutilized second-year tight end.

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