Bess Shapiro

Mychal Rivera: A Tight End in the Making

Created on Oct. 10, 2013 12:42 AM EST

It’s an unlikely position for a rookie given that he was not an intended starter, but Oakland Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera is emerging as a receiving threat. Coach Dennis Allen had been singing his praises during training camp, while pointing out his weaknesses. He sounded like a promising work in progress. Then opportunity presented itself. Veteran tight end and presumed starter David Ausberry was placed on injured reserve. That left Rivera along with rookie Nick Kasa and veteran Jeron Mastrud. Kasa failed to dazzle in training camp or preseason, and Mastrud has played very little. Nonetheless, as the veteran, Mastrud is considered the starter.

But so far, Rivera has been more productive and consistent than his teammate. He’s been getting more reps than Mastrud and his performance shows it. He’s not as big or tall as a Tony Gonzalez, who is almost impossible to cover or take down. But Rivera makes up for that with speed and versatility. He’s proving to be a go-to guy in short-yardage situations adding more yards with his feet. During the Raiders’ opener against the Indianapolis Colts, he did just that, catching a pass for five yards and turning it into 19, while breaking tackles. As pointed out by Jorge Contreras of Bay Area Sports, this was an impressive feat given that Rivera had lined up as a slot receiver.

Rivera has at least one reception in every game. He has 128 receiving yards so far and is averaging 12.8 yards a catch. He scored his first touchdown in Week 4 against the Redskins, an 18-yard strike. His college numbers also bode well for his future. In his senior year at Tennessee, he had 36 receptions for 562 yards and five touchdowns.

His short-yardage ability has put the Raiders in field-goal range and kept drives alive. This will prove useful during busted plays. Sometimes when Terrelle Pryor scrambles, it’s not by choice, especially if he gets caught in the backfield. If Rivera can stay open, he becomes the outlet receiver for positive yardage.

When Rivera isn’t in a position to catch the ball, he’s blocking, which is a skill he needs to improve. His blocking has been ineffective so far. He is definitely not a blocking tight end, but according to Allen, his end line blocking is improving against the run and pass. With Oakland’s abysmal offensive line and running back Darren McFadden out for who knows how long, Rivera will need to help open holes and throw some blocks down field for the running game.

Rivera’s other weakness is that he’s a rookie, and he makes rookie mistakes. In the Monday night game against Denver, an offensive pass interference call against Rivera negated a huge play. The Broncos game was a rout, but those mistakes can be momentum killers and make the difference between a punt and points.

If Rivera can limit his mistakes, he has a bright future. With only 10 receptions, he still has more growing to do. There is no guarantee that he will rival a Jimmy Graham or a Rob Gronkowski, but he can establish himself as a solid starter in the tradition of Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez.

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