Could the Raiders sophomore stud be ready to break out in 2016?
After years in the doldrums, the Oakland Raiders took the first steps back to relevance in 2015, finishing with a 7-9 record. Now, with the AFC West in a state of flux, a solid go at free agency and another year under quarterback Derek Carr, the Silver and Black could be ready to press on this year. One of the key weapons in their progression could very well be tight end Clive Walford, and his second year break out could be great news for fantasy owners.
A Solid First Year
It is one of the rarest things in pro football, and fantasy for that matter, for a tight end to shine in their first season. In the entire history of the NFL, only one rookie tight end has posted a 1000 yard season, and that was Mike Ditka back in 1961. Walford began his NFL career with 28 receptions from 50 targets for 329 yards, scoring three times. Not spectacular, as already noted, but he did show flashes of being a man Carr can turn to in a pinch. 20 of those 28 receptions resulted in first downs, and this ability to deliver when the QB needs him should see his targets increase.
Red Zone Weapon
Clive Walford is 6’4, and given this he should see more use inside the opposition 20 yard line in 2016. He was targeted seven times in the red zone last year, snaring two of these looks for a combined 11 yards and two touchdowns. His seven targets in the scoring area trailed team mates Michael Crabtree (3 of 13 for 18 yards, 2 scores) and Seth Roberts (5/9-58-5), while it tied the total of looks fellow rookie Amari Cooper saw (3/7-38-2). Tyler Eifert became a fantasy darling in 2015 thanks in no small part to his 11 red zone scores, and if Walford can even produce half of the production of Eifert owners will be very pleased.
Second Time’s the Charm[the_ad id=”58837″]The lack of success tight ends have enjoyed on their first go around in the NFL has not precluded them from enjoying fruitful sophomore campaigns. Since the year 2000, 30 second year tight ends have posted more than 500 receiving yards with two topping 1000 (Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham in 2011), 10 had at least 63 receptions (Graham had 99), and 15 had six or more touchdowns (Gronk’s 17 are an NFL single season record for a tight end). Walford can look inside his own teams meeting room for relevant inspiration, as Mychal Rivera reeled in 58 of his 99 targets for 534 yards and four scores in 2014. The emergence of Walford will likely be the final nail in Rivera’s Raiders coffin, with reports emerging that the team is looking to trade him. This should only increase Walford’s opportunities, with only blocker Lee Smith for competition.
Not a Big Play Machine?
Clive Walford has, as already pointed out, a knack for delivering a first down when its needed. But one thing he has yet to flash is an ability to post plays for big yardage. Only five of his 28 receptions resulted in a gain of 20+ yards, and his average yards per reception in 2015 was a middling 11.8. This would suggest that if he doesn’t produce in the red zone, he’s going to need a ton of targets to make up for his relatively low yardage. But it is worth considering that during his college career with the Miami Hurricanes, he averaged 14.5 yards per catch. This is more than Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow Jnr. His three years at “The U” saw him amass more receiving yards since 2000 (1753) than all but five players. Those five? Leonard Hankerson, Travis Benjamin, Phillip Dorsett, Allen Hurns and Andre Johnson. Not bad company to be in. Only Hankerson, Dre, Dorsett and Hurns scored more than his 14 total touchdowns too.