Clive Walford had some serious momentum going at the end of last season, the tight end averaging five targets per game over the Oakland Raiders' final five games. Thankfully for both him and the Raiders, his offseason misadventure on an ATV -- his wreck injured a knee and kept him out of the team’s offseason training program -- was not worse. He was still rounding into shape in camp and many eyebrows were raised when Lee Smith, whose specialty is blocking, not catching passes, was listed ahead of Walford on the team’s first “unofficial” depth chart. No worry, Walford is ready to take that next step.
ESPN Fantasy Projection: 47.2 catches, 521.3 yards, 5.4 TDs
Over or under: Over for all three. As noted above, Walford is the most athletic tight end on the roster, with no disrespect to Smith, Mychal Rivera or Gabe Holmes, who suffered a “significant” high-ankle sprain in the Raiders’ preseason-opening win at the Arizona Cardinals last Friday and could be headed for injured reserve. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Walford, who had 28 catches for 329 yards and three TDs in 16 games as a rookie last season, has been working on his chemistry with quarterback Derek Carr, both before and after camp practices. Walford, with his size and soft hands, should be a prime red zone target for Carr, so watch for some intriguing two-tight end sets to take advantage of dual skill sets, especially Walford’s athleticism.
Who else could see time: As noted above, the 6-6, 265-pound Smith is essentially an extra offensive lineman, and while the 6-3, 245-pound Rivera is more of a pass-catcher, Walford may have more upside in the eyes of the Raiders' coaching staff. Indeed, Rivera has 128 catches for 1,221 yards and nine TD catches in 48 career games, 13 starts, over three seasons. So if Walford falters, Rivera should be there to pick up some slack, so to speak.