- Paul Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our countdown of the best Oakland Raiders draft picks since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger continues with tight end Dave Casper checking in at No. 3 ...
Dave Casper (Notre Dame, second round, No. 45 overall, 1974)
The Raiders already had a serviceable tight end on the roster in Bob Moore when their turn came up in the second round of the 1974 draft. No matter, the call was made, even as Kent State linebacker Jack Lambert was on the board and went next to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I’m pretty sure neither team regretted the decision.
Casper, a former second-team All-America offensive tackle, redefined the tight end position for the Raiders as both a brutal blocker and a soft-handed pass-catcher, even if it took him a couple of years to become a threat as a receiver. (He caught only nine balls for 97 yards in his first two seasons combined.)
But in 1976, he erupted with 53 catches for 691 yards and 10 touchdowns in helping lead the Raiders to the Super Bowl XI championship. A year later, he authored one of the most famous catches in franchise history, the Ghost to the Post 42-yard over-the-shoulder catch from Ken Stabler that set the Raiders up for a late game-tying field goal in a playoff victory at the Baltimore Colts.
"I played a lot of outfield as a kid," Casper later told NFL Films, "and I used to practice running where I'd just put my head down real quick, run to a spot and quickly look back up. When I looked up, the ball, thank God, was coming right down into my hands. If I had looked up a second later I wouldn’t have seen it."
Errol Mann's 22-yarder tied the game and the Raiders won in sudden death on the second play of the second overtime when Stabler hit Casper for a 10-yard TD. It was Casper's fourth catch of the game, his third TD.
Casper would also recover the "Holy Roller" fumble in San Diego to stun the Chargers in 1978. He was sent to the Houston Oilers on Oct. 14, 1980, in a deal for picks that eventually became Ted Watts, Howie Long and Jack Squirek. Casper also spent part of the 1983 season with the Minnesota Vikings. He returned to the Raiders, in Los Angeles, in 1984. But with Todd Christensen firmly entrenched as the tight end, Casper appeared in just seven games, catching four passes for 29 yards and two scores.
The five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro retired after that season with 378 career catches for 5,216 yards and 52 TDs in 11 seasons. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
7dEric D. Williams