The Raiders go into 2015 with what appears to be a much better corps of tight ends than in recent years. Aside from holdover Mychal Rivera, Oakland has added veteran free-agent pickup Lee Smith – a terrific blocker – from the Buffalo Bills and drafted Clive Walford from the University of Miami. Brian Leonhardt also is in the mix.
Smith is listed as the starter on the team’s first depth chart of training camp, and Walford – currently sidelined by a minor injury – is believed to have the potential to be a star.
But this summer, another player has emerged as a candidate to earn playing time: former Purdue standout Gabe Holmes, an undrafted free agent.
To date, Holmes has been outstanding in camp, handling his assignments well and making good catches.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder is a former basketball player and was a versatile performer at Purdue, where he was lined up occasionally as a wide receiver.
As SB Nation’s Levi Damien noted, Holmes had a fine junior season for the Boilermakers with 25 catches, but then was hurt two games into his senior season. Granted another year of playing time, Holmes had 17 catches as a senior in 2014.
But he played in a pass-limited offense and was overlooked in the draft.
Now, at training camp in Napa, he’s getting reps with the second-team offense and has looked solid. Vic Tafur, who covers the Raiders for the San Francisco Chronicle, tweeted recently that Holmes could be one of the surprises of training camp, and could make this team for Game 1.
A Fox Sports story in May, just after Holmes signed with Oakland, compared Holmes to Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas, a former standout with the Broncos who played basketball at Portland State. The author predicted Holmes could be a steal, citing “a lot of Julius Thomas-like qualities.” Certainly, several former college basketball players have become fine NFL tight ends, including Thomas, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham.
One of the questions is, however, will the Raiders keep four tight ends?
It’s certainly possible. But to make his case, Holmes will need to continue to open eyes, particularly if he can play well in the exhibition season that begins Friday night when Oakland plays host to the Rams at 7.