To NFL film buffs the Oakland Raiders receiving core is a dream come true.
Featuring the very talented sophomore YAC master Amari Cooper, the excellent WR2 presence of Michael Crabtree, the underrated slot receiver Seth Roberts, and the tall Andre Holmes, this receiving group was very skillful in limiting the amount of accuracy quarterback Derek Carr needed on some of his passes, allowing him to simply mustard it to them at times.
Under the surface, however, is a player that intrigues more than the guys listed above, and that guy happens to be sophomore tight end Clive Walford.
A 3rd round pick out of the University of Miami, Walford has recently been talked about by some as a breakout player in 2016. At 6 ft 4 (coincidentally the same height as me), Walford allows Carr to have a tall pass catcher to throw to.
And he’ll need to, because Walford had a great rookie season that suggested it was only the beginning of things to come.
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed I am a big fan of Walford. My praise of him has been so big, a follower scooped him up as a late pick in a fantasy draft because of my opinion on him. So, with that said, now is the time for me to explain why I’m a fan.
One thing I noticed while watching the Raiders offense from last year was that Walford was not regularly featured as a blocking tight end, so this suggests the Raiders are all in on featuring him as the #1 receiving tight end. As I’ll explain in the GIFs below, I could not be more excited to see this happen.
On the play above, Walford shows his catching skills by hauling in a slightly overthrown ball from Carr for a big gain. It’s important for a receiving TE to allow for an easy target for a quarterback to throw to, especially early in their careers. Thankfully, on plays like this, Walford showed that off by erasing a bit of the accuracy his quarterback needed to complete the throw.
This play also features impressive hands from Walford. While the pass was ruled incomplete after a challenge, this is an amazing job by Walford to haul the ball in from an angle against really tight (great) coverage from free safety Darian Stewart. Once given more reps, we should be able to more of these kinds of plays from #88.
Walford’s route running should not go unnoticed either. For a tight end, his route are very clean and smooth. He is able to stutter step and fake out coverage with ease, as shown in the play above. His stutter step fakes out the defender, and allows Carr to fire an easy strike for a big gain.
Above are two more examples of Walford’s ability to brush off and evade defenders on routes. The first play is an incomplete pass (Carr’s throw was way off), but it’s worth showing because of how the tight end fakes out his man. With the safety in the middle, the throw would have been tough anyway even if it were accurate, but I’d like to see Walford go up for a jumpball. The 2nd pass is completed, and Walford’s brush off of his defender is great.
Finally, the above two plays show off Walford’s ability to fake out defenders after the catch. The first GIF is impressive, as the tight end breaks the ankles of the guy in front of him with a stutter step, evades him, and surges for more yards after the catch. The 2nd play is the most impressive thing I have seen from Walford yet, as he evades and brushes off not, one, not two, but three defenders to get more yards after the catch.
To conclude this brief article, Walford’s size and height guarantees the Raiders a promising young skyscraper that can win matchups, make throws easier for his quarterback, and get yards after the catch with his elusiveness and athleticism. Oakland did not use him that much in 2015 (there’s only so much a team can ask from a rookie tight end), but when he was used, he was a great playmaker, and I expect to see him continue that role in 2016, hopefully with more reps.
The Raiders have done a nice job of recognizing the skill sets of their receivers, and this is especially the case with #88. They know how to scheme him open, but Walford is also able to get open on his own and haul in the ball for some impressive catches. It’s all set up for a breakout year in 2016.
After all, Walford has the ingredients to become the next star tight end in the NFL.
(Featured Image via Bleacherreport.com)