Originally written on Thoughts from the Dark Side  |  Last updated 10/25/14
Watching tape is always extremely interesting. For example, when the Raiders drafted Mychal Rivera, simply reading about him I thought his size – 6’3” 242 lbs – likely meant that he was an explosive receiver who probably didn’t have the size to be a great blocker but would serve as a good receiver option. In essence, I thought that Rivera would be another David Ausberry, who is an explosive receiving threat but struggles in blocking. Ausberry, of course, was a receiver in college. However, this perception could not be further from the truth. Instead, I found Rivera to be a better-than-expected blocker…but he is in no way a stretch-the-field receiver. First, Rivera definitely lacks the size that teams would like at the position. His size makes him by far the smallest TE on the Raiders roster and he stands out as being small even on the college tape. Smaller than ideal players can still be impact players, of course, but Rivera’s ceiling is certainly much lower than other prospects including fellow rookie Nick Kasa. Despite his lack of size, however, Rivera did a good job using leverage and technique to block well. He did especially well with outside speed rushers because he has the quick feet to keep his body between the rusher and the QB.  Here’s an example of him against South Carolina’s DE Jadveon Clowney, a virtual lock for a top 5 selection in next year’s draft.   In the play, Rivera is lined up behind the LT. He has the assignment of protecting QB Tyler Bray's blind side:   At the snap, Clowney starts to go out but Rivera has done well in getting out of his stance and getting his body low:   Here, Rivera has engaged with Clowney forthe first time a good six yards behind the line of scrimmage. He's not been turned around by Clowney and continues to run Clowney further down the field:   Clowney tries to power through Rivera but Rivera plants fairly well and is able to continue to delay the rush and buy Bray additional time to throw:   As Bray steps up in the pocket, Rivera re-engages with Clowney, pushing him further up the field. A tight end wouldn't normally fair this well with a player like Clowney, but Rivera does well to tie up the explosive DE:   Clowney doesn't get free until Bray has had time to survey the field and make his throw. Rivera was able to take on Clowney in single coverage and hold his own:   To his credit, Rivera is very versatile. In the 4 games I viewed, he lined up on in-line (in the tight end position at the tackle’s shoulder), in the slot, as the protector in the shotgun and also as a lead blocker at times. I never saw him line up as an outside receiver but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened. Here is an example of Rivera as a lead blocker. At the snap, he starts to go to his R to lead for the Tennessee tailback:   The L guard pulls and helps the RT take out the defensive end and the Center does a good job on the defensive tackle along with the help of one of the guards. Rivera, who was initially headed outside, sees a good opening in the center, plants and goes upfield:   Here, the offensive line has done a good job of creating a space in the center of the field. Rivera is headed to take on two linebackers who are running hard to plug the hole. The running back has to outrun the defensive end that was left unblocked in the scheme: Rivera, gets a very good block on one of the linebackers and the RG peels away from his man and engages the other. Because Rivera has a solid base under him, he is able to keep a good window where the running back can angle away from the bulk of the defenders:   One concern: Rivera comes across as extremely slow on tape. I would describe him as lumbering, in fact. He doesn’t do a good job of getting yards after the catch because he doesn’t have the speed to separate himself from his defender. He lacks the speed to run away even from linebackers. Rivera was clearly Tennessee QB Tyler Bray’s favorite target. He showed soft hands and good hand eye coordination. He showed great to excellent body control and if a ball was thrown into his vicinity, he was typically able to come down with the pass.   The play starts with a trips formation to the right of the line. Rivera is in the point position of the trips:   t   At the snap, Rivera runs downfield. He is met by a linebacker and there is safety help over top as well. There are many tight ends that would be able to easily outrun an opposing linebacker but Rivera, who ran only a 4.81 40-yard dash at the Combine, lacks upper end speed:   What he lacks in speed, however, he makes up for in awareness. In the pic below, Rivera has started to track the flight of the ball and will adjust his position accordingly:   As you can see, the linebacker on Rivera has good coverage on him and is really in better position to make a play on the ball than is Rivera. Rivera has to come in closer to center to put himself in a position to get the ball: If the ball were thrown to the outside of Rivera, the safety would be able to make a play on it but because it was thrown almost center of the field, Rivera is able to cross over and make a play on the pass. He does a good job, keeping his eye on the ball:   Rivera does a good job of getting over where the pass is but can't cleanly field it because the linebacker is in the way. But showing good concentration and great hands, he sticks his right arm out and allows the ball to come into his arm. He then brings it into his body for the long TD reception:   Here's another look at Rivera right before the catch. Notice how well he focuses on the ball despite the linebacker and the safety barreling down on him:   Here's a look as he makes the catch and brings the ball into his body. The concentration and hands he showed on this play were very impressive and he consistently made touch catches on tape which is invaluable to an organization:   Finally, Rivera showed good awareness of the first down marker and a good safety outlet to move the chains. That’s probably where the Raiders will use him the most. He’ll be a move the chains receiver, excelling at out routes or crossing routes where he can make a catch to move the chains and keep the Raiders drive’s going. He isn’t going to hurt the team as a blocker but he won’t excel at it, either. Rivera projects as a better backup TE than a starter, although he may see starting time for the Silver and Black simply because the position isn’t very deep for the team at this time. For more Raiders news and thoughts throughout the day, follow me on Twitter @AsherMathews

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