When the Raiders used a third-round pick in the 2015 draft to select tight end Clive Walford, they viewed him as a potential big-time playmaker.
Walford was the University of Miami’s all-time receiving leader as a tight end, and the Raiders loved his size, speed and hands.
He had trouble gaining momentum as a rookie because of an early injury, but had 28 catches over 16 games for 329 yards, an 11.3-yard average per reception and three touchdowns. So, big things were expected of Walford in 2016.
Yet in his second season, Walford in 15 games was just slightly more productive, with 33 catches in 15 games for a 10.9 average and three TDs.
Now, after allowing tight end Mychal Rivera to leave in free agency, Walford remains as the team’s No. 1 tight end heading into 2017, but that status isn’t assured after Oakland signed free agent Jared Cook, the former Packer and Ram. As Maurice Moton of the NFL Spin Zone website noted recently, the signing of Cook could be intended not only as giving the team another solid receiver at the position, but also as a signal to Walford that he’ll need to work hard to cement his starting status. Wrote Moton: “(Cook is) not coming in to take a backseat similar to … Rivera over the past two years.”
But it also seems probable now that Walford still wasn’t 100 percent in 2016 after suffering a knee injury in the offseason. In fact, general manager Reggie McKenzie told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle that Walford “wasn’t the same player” in 2016 because of that injury, but “should be fine now” in 2017.
McKenzie told Tafur the competition between Walford and Cook in training camp should be “fun to watch.”
If Walford is again 100 percent healthy, the Raiders should have a dangerous 1-2 punch at tight end with Walford and Cook (plus top-blocking tight end Lee Smith), no matter who earns the starting spot. As Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group noted recently, Walford “did not appear to be fully healthy” after the offseason injury, incurred in an ATV accident, and that his season was plagued by dropped passes.
For his part, Walford appears to be excited about his third season and working hard to see what what he can accomplish in 2017. Tweeted Walford in late March: “Grinding & Staying Humble!!!”