In 2018, tight end Jared Cook was one of the Raiders’ best offensive weapons.
Cook had a career-best 68 catches for 896 yards and six touchdowns in a Pro Bowl season that he parlayed into a new free-agent deal with the New Orleans Saints.
Now, while the Raiders have upgraded their wide receiver corps this offseason, tight end looks shaky. The Raiders made no big move in the draft or free agency to bring in a high-impact, big-play tight end.
As the Raiders continued to work through organized team activities (OTAs) this week, their options at the position include veteran holdover Derek Carrier, fourth-round draft choice Foster Moreau out of LSU, former Ravens backup Darren Waller and sixth-year journeyman Luke Willson (formerly of the Seahawks and Lions). Tough-blocking Lee Smith, a plus in the running game, also was released this offseason and is with the Buffalo Bills.
It’s not a star-studded group.
For now, Waller is getting plenty of snaps with the first-team offense in OTAs and appears to be the front-runner to start in 2019, notes Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The former wide receiver at Georgia Tech, a sixth-round pick of Baltimore in 2015, is a big target at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, and could develop with playing time in Oakland after limited opportunities with the Ravens.
The Raiders picked him up last season and he appeared in four games, making six catches. He’s played just 22 NFL games over four seasons with only 18 catches for 178 yards.
But for now, he’s probably the team’s best option as a pass-catcher at the position.
“We think he’s one of those players at the tight end position that has an elite set of skills,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson told Gehlken. “He is extremely fast for his size. For a player at his weight to run the way he runs, again, it’s extremely impressive. And she’s shown the ball skills that we’re looking for. …
“He’s a very willing blocker. He’s tough. And again, elite speed. I think we’re real fortunate. By not having Jared Cook here, I think it’s really going to expedite his growth. We’re giving him a lot right now. Although Jared has big shoes to fill there, we think he’s a guy who can step in and do the job for us.”
Head coach Jon Gruden has called Waller “one of the best-kept secrets in the league” and a “secret weapon.”
“Since the time he’s walked in here, he’s been one of the most impressive guys on our team,” Gruden said recently.