Raiders All-Time Top Five: Tight Ends

The Oakland, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas Raiders have an outstanding legacy of great players and today we look at the all-time great tight ends
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1. Dave Casper 1974-1980, 1984

When Dave Casper came to the Raiders after they selected him in the second round (No. 45 overall) of the 1974 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame, they weren’t sure if he was going to play tackle or tight end after he made All-American at both positions in his last two seasons with the Fighting Irish. The 6-4 Casper, who played most of his career at about 240 pounds, weighed about 255 in his rookie season, so Coach John Madden had him work with the offensive linemen. Casper, nicknamed “The Ghost,” wasn’t happy with that, so he came back for his second season having lost about 30 pounds and the Raiders could see that he was a tight end. Casper became the starting tight end for the Raiders in 1976, and in the next four seasons as a starter, he caught 226 passes for 2,918 yards and 28 touchdowns. In Super Bowl XI to cap the 1976 season, Casper caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Kenny Stabler for the first TD of the game, finished with four receptions for 70 yards, and was a key blocker as Clarence Davis, Mark van Eeghen and Pete Banaszak rushed for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Despite his great consistency, Casper probably is best remembered for two of the Raiders’ famous Games With Names, “Ghost to the Post” against the Baltimore Colts in 1977 and “The Holly Roller” against the San Diego Chargers in 1978. Against the Colts in a divisional playoff game, Casper caught a 42-yard pass that Stabler threw directly over his head to set up a game-tying field goal in the final minute of regulation, and then caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Stabler to win the game, 37-31, on the second play of overtime. “The pass was right over my head,” Casper said. “Kenny threw such a softball that it really was a piece of cake to catch. If it looked tough, it really wasn't. I just ran under it and it stuck in my hands.” Against the Chargers, the Raiders were driving in the final seconds but Stabler was being sacked and time would have run out on the Raiders, so he flipped the ball forward, trying to make it look like a fumble. Banaszak appeared to try to scoop the ball up on about the five-yard-line but instead knocked it toward the end zone. Casper reached the ball next, bobbled it forward, and eventually fell on it in the end zone for what was ruled a touchdown. Errol Mann kicked the extra point and the Raiders won, 21-20. “I played 11 years and had some success, and what am I remembered for?” Casper asked in an NFL Films video. “Being a fumbling fool at the end of a ‘Holy Roller’ or whatever you want to call it.” Of course, that’s not everything Casper is remembered for, as he made 378 receptions in his career for 5,216 yards and 52 touchdowns, making All-Pro four times and playing in five Pro Bowls in addition to being selected to the NFL 1970s All-Decade team before being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. Casper rejoined Stabler with the Houston Oilers in 1980 and also played for the Minnesota Vikings in 1983 before finishing his career by returning to the Raiders the following season.

2. Todd Christensen, 1979-1988

Christensen was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round (No. 56) overall of the 1978 NFL Draft as a fullback out of BYU, but didn’t play a down during the regular season or the playoffs for a team that lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIII, because he sustained a broken foot in the last preseason game. The Cowboys wanted to convert him into a tight end the following season, but he resisted and was put on waivers before being claimed by the New York Giants. Christensen was released after two games and was signed as a free agent in 1979 by the Raiders, who also wanted to make him a tight end. Christensen finally agreed to the switch and in 1982 caught 42 passes for 510 yards and four touchdowns, before really breaking out the next season with 92 receptions for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns. Over the final seven seasons of his career, the 6-3, 230-pound Christensen caught 453 passes for 5,757 yards and 39 touchdowns, and in eight postseason games, he caught 31 balls for 358 yards and a touchdown. Christensen played in five straight Pro Bowls from 1983-87, was selected first-team All-Pro four times, and led the NFL in receptions in 1983 and 1986. His 349 receptions from 1983 through 1986 were an NFL record over four seasons at the time. Christensen played on special teams as the Raiders beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10, in Super Bowl XV, but caught four passes for 32 yards when they defeated the Washington Redskins, 38-9, in Super Bowl XVIII. His with 461 receptions for 5,872 yards and 41 touchdowns remain records among Raiders tight ends, and Bleacher Report claimed in 2009 that Christensen belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he is yet another great Raider who has not gotten the call to Canton. There are eight tight ends in the Hall of Fame, including Shannon Sharpe, who played the part of his career as a wide receiver. Christensen has more receptions and receiving yards than half of them and has more touchdown receptions than three of them. Christensen passed away at the age of 57 from complications during liver transplant surgery in 2013.

3. Raymond Chester, 1970-1972, 1978-81

Chester was devastated when the Raiders traded him to the Baltimore Colts in 1973, even though he grew up in Maryland, but continued to live in Oakland and was overjoyed when the Silver and Black reacquired him in another trade with the Colts in 1978. The 6-3, 230-pound Chester was drafted by the Raiders in the first round (No. 24 overall) of the 1970 NFL Draft and became a starter in his first season. He was selected NFL Rookie of the Year and made the first of three straight trips to the Pro Bowl. Chester played in 41 games in his first three seasons in Oakland, catching 104 passes for 1,574 yards and 22 touchdowns before being sent to the Colts for defensive end Bubba Smith. After playing for five seasons in Baltimore, the Raiders reacquired Chester for wide receiver Mike Siani and a draft choice in 1978, and he played four more seasons in Oakland. In seven seasons with the Raiders, he caught 216 passes for 2,891 yards and 37 touchdowns, and who knows, had he spent his entire career in Oakland, Chester might be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was selected to the Pro Bowl four times, all with the Raiders, and was first-team All-Pro in 1979. Chester made the most memorable play of his career in the 1980 AFC Championship Game against the San Diego Chargers when he caught a deflected pass from Jim Plunkett and turned it into a 65-yard touchdown on the third play of the game that started the Raiders on their way to a 34-27 upset victory. Those Raiders became the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl, beating the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10, in Super Bowl XV, in which Chester caught two passes for 24 yards. In 12 NFL seasons with the Raiders and Colts, he made 364 catches for 5,103 yards, a 13.1-yard average, and 48 touchdowns. Later, Chester played one season with the Oakland Invaders of the United States Football League in 1983 and was named USFL Man of the Year. Chester remained in Oakland and was General Manager of Lake Chabot Golf Course for 20 years.

4. Zach Miller, 2007-2010

Despite playing only four seasons with the Raiders, Miller ranks in the top 20 on the team’s list of all-time leading receivers with 226 receptions for 2,712 yards and 12 touchdowns. The 6-5, 255-pound Miller was drafted in the second round (No. 38 overall) by the Silver and Black in 2007 out of Arizona State, where he was Pacific 10 Conference Freshman of the Year in 2004, plus first-team All-Pac-10 and a consensus All-American in 2006. Miller had been projected to be a first-round pick but slipped to the Raiders in the second round after a sub-par performance at the NFL Combine. However, caught 44 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns in his first season and was selected to the Pro Football Writers of America’s NFL All-Rookie team. Miller’s best season with the Raiders came in 2009 when he caught 66 passes for 805 yards and three touchdowns, and he was named to the Pro Bowl in 2010 after making 60 catches for 685 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. After leading the Silver and Black in receiving in each of his last three seasons with the team, Miller became a free agent in 2011 and signed a lucrative, five-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks, for whom he played the last four years of his career. Miller finished his eight seasons in the NFL with 328 catches for 3,804 yards and 20 touchdowns and played for the Seahawks when they beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVII, catching one pass for 10 yards in that game. Miller underwent two ankle surgeries, which ended his career in 2015 when he failed to pass the Seahawks’ physical.

5. Darren Waller, 2018-Present

The way he has played in his first two seasons as a starter for the Raiders, Waller should be moving up this list fairly quickly. People wondered what would happen when the Silver and Black let productive tight end Jared Cook go to the New Orleans Saints in free agency before the 2018 season, but Waller answered all the questions and more. The 6-6, 255-pound Waller caught 90 passes for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns in his first season as a starter, before adding 107 receptions to lead NFL wide receivers, for 1,196 yards and seven scores last year. Waller, the great-grandson of famed jazz pianist Fats Waller, was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round (No. 204 overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Georgia Tech. He was with the Ravens for four seasons, which were marred by two suspensions for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Waller admitted he had substance abuse problems, but straightened out his life and signed as a free agent with the Raiders in 2018 when he played behind Cook and made six catches for 75 yards. For his career, Waller has made 215 catches for 2,519 yards and 14 touchdowns, but it appears there is plenty more to come. He has shown the moves, speed, and size to get open anywhere on the field, whether short, middle, or deep, and is an effective blocker in the Raiders' running game.

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