How first-round pick Brock Bowers fits into Raiders offense

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Antonio Pierce saw plenty of different matchups and alignments as an NFL linebacker from 2001 through 2009. But few formations flummoxed the Las Vegas Raiders' coach as much as looking across the line of scrimmage and seeing two tight ends on the field at the same time.

Pierce, who spent the first four seasons of his career with Washington before winning a Super Bowl and being named to a Pro Bowl with the New York Giants, already had to deal with the likes of Jeremy Shockey, Jason Witten and Chris Cooley within his own division.

So when opposing teams lined up in 12 personnel -- one running back, two tight ends -- figurative alarms went off in Pierce's helmet.

"I mean, if you're thinking about '12 personnel' in the 2000s, it was a true 'Y,' like, that extra O-lineman, and that really skilled player, right?" Pierce said. "That [extra] guy was just like, man, he's 6-6, 270. Just an extra offensive lineman."

The evolution of the tight end position since Pierce's playing days has made the package much more dangerous and difficult to prepare for in today's game.

"This is different," Pierce said. "You're talking about [two] skill players who can catch the ball, who can come out the backfield, who can do a lot of different things for you, and you see it. Kansas City does it a lot with their tight ends."

Having used their first-round pick at No. 13 overall on Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, a year after trading up in the second round to select Michael Mayer out of Notre Dame, the Raiders have designs on joining the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs in rolling out multiple-tight end sets.

So long as new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy figures out a way to deploy them.

Getsy, the Chicago Bears' OC the previous two seasons, has already shown video clips of Bears tight end Cole Kmet working in his system to Bowers, who won the Mackey Award the past two seasons as college football's best tight end.

"We've definitely been watching a little bit of that and just seeing what they did well and trying to translate to our game over here," Bowers said during Raiders rookie minicamp.

"If you have two great tight ends, I think it's really hard to match that, personnel-wise, in order to defend against the pass and the run. So, I mean, I think it makes it difficult for defensive personnel."

Change is seemingly on the horizon.

Consider: per ESPN Stats & Information, the Raiders ranked 31st in the NFL in running 12 personnel under then-coach/offensive playcaller Josh McDaniels in 2022, lining up in the formation on just 5.0% of their plays. They were 24th (14.2%) under McDaniels and interim OC Bo Hardegree last season.

The Bears, with Getsy, were 21st (17.0%) in plays run in 12 personnel in 2022 but jumped to eighth last season, running 23.2% of their plays with two tight ends.

Combining the two seasons, the Bears had the 12th-highest percentage (20.3) of plays run out of 12 personnel, the Raiders ranked 29th (9.5%).

Running a predominantly 12-personnel scheme would provide the Raiders with a more physical, run-heavy attack. After all, Getsy authored the NFL's Nos. 1 and 2 rushing offenses in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

Which should make running back Zamir White smile but could raise eyebrows from three-time first-team All-Pro receiver Davante Adams. Still, Adams, who worked with Getsy with the Green Bay Packers, gave his blessing to the hire prior to the Super Bowl.

The combo of Bowers and Mayer is seemingly this Silver and Black generation's answer to what Ken Stabler had at his disposal in a less-pass-happy 1979 season. Both Dave Casper and Raymond Chester were named to the Pro Bowl as tight ends after combining for 115 catches for 1,483 yards and 11 touchdowns.

A more recent example would be what Tom Brady had at tight end with the New England Patriots from 2010 to 2012 in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

The duo caught a combined 169 passes on 237 targets for 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2011 ... though Brady did not have an accomplished receiver like Adams on his roster at the time.

And the Raiders don't have Brady. Because unless Brady pulls a fast one and comes out of retirement, either Aidan O'Connell or Gardner Minshew will be doling out the opportunities to Mayer and Bowers, who was arguably the most versatile tight end in the country.

While the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Bowers was a three-time first-team All-American TE, he ran more routes out of the slot (444) in his college career than he did as a traditional tight end (393), per ESPN Stats & Info. He caught 85 passes for 1,461 yards and 17 TDs as a TE, compared to 64 catches for 863 yards and four TDs out of the slot.

He also ran 66 routes while lined up wide (22 catches for 191 yards and five TDs) and 22 routes as a running back (four catches for 23 yards).

Fellow Raiders draft pick Decamerion Richardson faced Bowers once in college, with his Mississippi State team falling to Georgia 45-19 on Nov. 12, 2022. Bowers had five catches for 41 yards and a 2-yard TD catch that day.

What impressed Richardson about Bowers?

"His catch radius," the fourth-round pick said. "With him being that big and moving him around like that, it's a good dynamic for him."

Heck, Bowers even appeared ever so briefly as Georgia's quarterback in one game and had 19 carries for 193 yards and five rushing TDs to go with his 26 TD catches in his three-year career.

The 6-4, 265-pound Mayer, meanwhile, missed the final three games of his rookie season with a toe injury and had 27 catches on 40 targets for 304 yards and a pair of TDs.

"When you look at our guys, both of them can do a lot of things for you," Pierce said. "You can line them up ... in the slot, at the No. 1 wide receiver, you can put them in line, you can put them in pairs. But more importantly, who's matching up on the other side against us? Is it a linebacker? Is it a safety? Is it a nickel? Is it a corner?

"We're fortunate to have two tight ends on our roster that in the last four years of college football were pretty much the best two, and ... hopefully that creates issues. It's going to create issues for us at practice ... In our division, we've got some really good tight ends, so it'll be good reps for us as well."