NAPA – Raiders tight ends weren't good enough last year. That position group was inexperienced, inconsistent and worn down by injury, making two things crystal clear.
The Raiders missed Lee Smith. They needed someone like Jared Cook.
Smith broke an ankle in Week 4 that ended his season and left the Raiders without an in-line blocking tight end vital to their power-rushing scheme. Clive Walford and Mychal Rivera didn't strike fear in the pattern.
Cook certainly does. That's why quarterback Derek Carr recruited him so hard this offseason. Carr's vision and a respectable contract offer brought Cook to Oakland.
There's little doubt the Raiders are deeper and better at tight end. Health and new blood saw to that. Upgrades should get that position group more involved.
"We haven't really gotten our tight end position going as much as I'd like," head coach Jack Del Rio said. "I think we've really addressed that. I think you're going to see a team that can utilize the tight end position more in their offensive plan and attack."
Cook's speed and track record should change the way opponents cover Carr's Raiders, drawing attention toward their new weapon.
"It should," Carr said. "But, if it doesn't, he should catch a lot of footballs."
Smith will catch a few, but adds toughness and versatility to the Raiders offense. He was a top-10 pass protecting tight end and an excellent run blocker in 2015, his last fully healthy season.
"He's a great blocker," offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. "He works hard at everything that we ask him to do. He actually has really good hands. He's more than just a blocking tight end."
Walford remains a project. He's a versatile talent with great potential, but the 2015 third-round pick has struggled with injury and consistency. Cook's arrival puts him in a backup role, though he could be a weapon in two-tight end sets on passing downs. Gabe Holmes could well make the team as injury protection and a special teams contributor.
The Raiders don't have a true superstar in the group, but have assembled a well-rounded group with complimentary talents. They have a guy for every situation, which should make tight ends a real weapon in 2017.
"This is the tight end group I've ever been a part of, probably the most talented," Cook said. "Guys know their role and play it well. All of them are good guys. Lee, Clive and (tight end coach Bobby Johnson) really made it easy for me in my transition to a new team. Lee's been a great spearhead and leader of the group. I'm really excited about what we'll be able to do (this) year."