Jun/24/15 10:39 PM Filed in: Clive Walford
Oakland's best fit: TE Clive Walford, Miami, No. 68 overall
It isn't surprising that all of the buzz on rookies following the Oakland Raiders' OTAs and minicamps was dedicated to No. 4 overall pick and reigning Biletnikoff Award winner Amari Cooper. After all, among all of the players at his position available in the 2015 NFL draft, he offered the greatest combination of size, speed and polish after starring in a pro-style offense for a powerhouse against elite competition.
Fortunately for the Raiders (and too often overlooked by media and fans) is that Walford, the Raiders' third round pick, checks off all of these boxes, as well.
Cooper (more on him later) was drafted to start immediately. Barring injury, he's a virtual lock to lead Oakland in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2015. Walford offers more athleticism and grit as a blocker than incumbent starting tight end Mychal Rivera, who finished second to since jettisoned wideout James Jones among all Raiders' pass-catchers last season.
Like Cooper, Walford is a naturally gifted athlete with prototype size (6-foot-4, 251), agility and soft hands. Also like Cooper, Walford showed an impressive work ethic in college to take full advantage of his traits, steadily improving in his conditioning, blocking at the point of attack, route-running and in cleanly catching the ball. He left Miami as the school's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards among tight ends, which is quite the accomplishment given that standouts Jimmy Graham, Greg Olson, Kellen Winslow, Jr. and Jeremy Shockey preceded him over the past 20 years.
It isn't just the production and traits that cause Walford to stand out, however. He is a particularly intriguing in Oakland's new up-tempo offense because of his versatility and upside. He lined up as a traditional in-line tight end at Miami, as well as playing on the move or even out wide. That's the kind of flexibility new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was used to seeing while operating as the quarterback coach for Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. Further, given that Walford only played one year of high school football, it is a testament to his football I.Q. and work ethic.
"We saw Clive as a complete tight end," general manager Reggie McKenzie said after the Raiders selected him. "He's not only a receiver or a blocker-type guy only. He's a guy that's big and strong enough to pound it versus the D-linemen, and he can flex out and run the routes and be that pass receiver."