After a slow start last season, tight end Mychal Rivera turned in a solid year and become a trusted receiver for rookie quarterback Derek Carr.
He started all 16 games and had 58 catches for 534 yards and four touchdowns. As a rookie in 2013 he had caught 38 passes for 407 yards and four scores.
In a late-season victory over the 49ers, Rivera made a big impact, with seven receptions for 109 yards and a TD. It was the first 100-yard receiving day by a Raiders tight end in two seasons.
Former offensive coordinator Greg Olson said both Carr and Rivera developed a stronger chemistry as the season wore on.
“I think they’re just more comfortable with one another,” Olson said late in the season. “I think that Derek is comfortable with how he’s running routes and Derek is kind of again, getting a little bit better feel for the timing of the passing game and the progressions and the matchups that are involved there.”
But after organized team activities (OTAs) and the recently concluded full-squad minicamp, it’s apparent that Rivera isn’t a lock to keep his job. Rookie Clive Walford has been impressive and is already being penciled in by many to be the team’s No. 1 tight end by the season opener.
Walford, the all-time receiving leader among tight ends at the University of Miami, is considered a more dynamic prospect than Rivera, with the ability to break off longer runs after catches and be a better blocker as well.
“Walford was terrific in the OTA session and the Raiders believe he has a chance to become a top receiving tight end in time,” wrote Bill Williamson of ESPN.com, who covers the Raiders.
At 6-foot-4 and 251 pounds, Walford is a bit bigger than Rivera (6-3, 242) and faster, too.
No matter who starts, however, the Raiders will be much stronger at the position than they have been for a few years. With Walford, Rivera and Lee Smith, a strong-blocking veteran signed from the Buffalo Bills, Oakland now has a solid trio with varied skills.
One thing in Rivera’s favor during training camp and the exhibition season is the connection he developed with Carr last season. With so many changes – in coaching staff and the addition of receivers such as Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree – Rivera will be a familiar target for Carr.
But even that may not be enough to hold off Walford, eventually.