Over a three-game stretch earlier this season against the Dolphins, Chargers and Cardinals, Mychal Rivera seemed to have vanished.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound tight end had a total of three catches in that span, and was shut out in the loss to San Diego.
Through the first six games of the season, in fact, Rivera had just 13 catches and Raiders observers were wondering whatever happened to the promising tight end who caught 38 passes and scored four touchdowns as a rookie in 2013.
But over the past two games, Rivera has re-emerged, becoming one of quarterback Derek Carr’s favorite targets. He had seven catches for 83 yards against the Browns and then eight catches for 38 and two TDs vs. the Seahawks Sunday.
With 28 catches over eight games, Rivera is now on pace for 56 receptions. The yardage total isn’t great – just 222 yards, a 7.9-average per catch – but Rivera has become Carr’s safety valve.
Though the Raiders are now 0-8 and preparing to face the Broncos Sunday at O.co Coliseum, Rivera is again showing that he could be a long-term piece of the Oakland puzzle.
“It wasn’t too long ago where you guys (media) were sitting in the room and you were saying to me, ‘What about Mychal Rivera?’ And I just told you that those things happen, it’s going to come,” said Raiders head coach Tony Sparano this week. “Be patient. And it’s happening. Mychal is contributing a lot. He’s done a nice job that way.”
Sparano praised Rivera for a couple of outstanding catches in the “contested environment” of Seattle, and how Rivera’s presence in the middle of the field is opening up outside throws to the wideouts.
“Mychal is improving,” said Sparano. “He’s getting better and better. He needs to keep working fundamentally, as we all do.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson, too, recently said that Rivera is improving in his second year and still has much more room to grow.
“A lot of high expectations for him, you try to remember that he’s a developing player,” Olson said. “He wasn’t a ready-made player when he got here. I think last year as a rookie, he got better during the season. … By no means right now is he a guy that’s anywhere near where he is going to be in this league.”