State Your Case: Raymond Chester


(Raymond Chester photo courtesy Oakland Raiders)

By Ron Borges

Talk of Fame Network

It’s unexplainable why one player’s reputation can rise over the years while another’s disappears into the gray mist of memory, but the latter seems to have happened to the great 1970s’ tight end, Raymond Chester.

When Chester came into the NFL in 1970 out of Morgan State he was a revelation. The Oakland Raiders loved to throw the ball, and Chester gave them a downfield weapon at tight end, the likes of which had seldom been seen.

He burst on to the scene with 42 receptions for 556 yards and seven touchdowns that year, winning the Bert Bell Memorial Trophy as the Newspaper Enterprise Association’s NFL Rookie of the Year. Up to that point, there had been few tight ends who posed the kind of receiving threat Chester represented.

Tight ends were still seen as third tackles, more involved in blocking than receiving. Chester was a demon at both, but it was his receiving production that made him stand out. Chester made the Pro Bowl three straight years before the Raiders traded him to the Baltimore Colts in 1973 for former overall No. 1 pick Bubba Smith. At the time of the trade, Colts’ general manager Joe Thomas said, “We had a chance to get possibly the best tight end in all of football, and we had to give up a good football player.’’

Chester was a five-year starter in Baltimore, where use of the tight end was far different than in Oakland. His first season in Baltimore, his receptions dwindled to 18. But after complaining about how he was used that number more than doubled in 1974. Although he would not miss a start in his final four seasons with the Colts, Chester was never happy with how he was used and would prove his point after the Colts shipped him back to the Raiders in 1978 for wide receiver Mike Siani.

With future Hall-of-Famer Dave Casper entrenched at the position, Chester did not start a game that season. But by the following year the two were sharing it with deadly results — with Chester catching 58 passes for 712 yards and eight touchdowns, besting Casper in both receptions and scores.

A year later Casper was shipped to Houston, and Chester became the starter on Oakland’s Super Bowl XV championship team.

When he retired in 1981, Raymond Chester had 364 receptions, good for 5,013 yards and 48 touchdowns. Those numbers pale in comparison to the likes of Tony Gonzalez or Rob Gronkowski because today the tight end often is a third wide receiver. So the best measuring stick are Chester’s peers.

When one stacks him up against Hall of Famers like Casper, John Mackey, Jackie Smith and Charlie Sanders, who were his contemporaries, or even the two Hall of Famers who followed him, Kellen Winslow and Ozzie Newsome, his case strengthens.

Winslow and Newsome were transitional players, the leading edge of the new generation of tight end, and while their numbers are bigger than Chester’s in catches and receiving yardage he scored more often than either.

The fairer comparison comes with the Hall-of-Fame tight ends of the 1960s and 1970s. Chester came into the NFL in 1970 as Mackey and Ditka were coming to the close of their careers. But he was a contemporary of Sanders and Casper and seven years behind Smith, who joined the St. Louis Cardinals in 1963 and lasted 16 seasons. Those three are among the eight tight ends in history to be elected to the Hall of Fame. None of their numbers differ much from Chester’s.

Smith had more catches and receptions but he played four more seasons and his per season average was nearly identical. Chester averaged 30.3 catches, 417.7 yards and four touchdowns. Smith averaged 30 catches, 494 yards and 2.5 scores.

If one looks at Casper and Sanders the numbers are even closer. Chester had more catches than Sanders (336), more yards (5,013 to 4,817) and more touchdowns (48 to 31). Casper had 14 more catches (378), 203 more yards (5,216) and four more scores (52). In essence, the three were identical in every area with Chester exceeding Sanders and only a shade behind Casper.

The wildcard in those comparisons are his two “lost’’ seasons, his first in Baltimore in 1973 (18 receptions, 181 yards and one TD) and his return to Oakland in 1978 when he did not start a game and caught only 13 passes for 146 yards and two scores. His performances in 1974-1977 in Baltimore and 1979 and 1980 in Oakland make clear the “drop-off’’ was more a failure of his offense than him.

If one simply takes his career average, which he exceeded every year other than 1973 and 1978, and add the difference between that and his level of production those two seasons, his numbers exceed Casper and Sanders, the Hall-of-Fame tight ends of the 1970s.

Such are the vagaries of life in the NFL. But when you step back and look at Raymond Chester’s production it’s difficult to argue against his own assessment of his career.

“No one can dispute I was one of the top three players at my position in my era,’’ he once said. “No one can dispute that.’’

No, they cannot.

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  1. bachslunch
    August 26, 2016

    Chester strikes me as a Hall of the Very Good player. Am hard pressed to see him as being better than Charlie Sanders, who is arguably the least good TE in. Would rather see Jerry Smith, Pete Retzlaff, and Todd Christensen get in first.

    • August 31, 2016

      That’s what the debate is all about. Good points.

  2. October 5, 2016

    You are right. Raymond Chester should be in the Hall of Fame. Of all of tight ends in NFL history, Raymond was the most athletic and gifted. Big, strong, rugged, he was the tight end of the 70’s. I am writing a new book and it should be out in January/February of 2017 and Raymond is in it. Had he stayed with the Raiders, he would have probably gone down as the best tight end ever and Oakland would have to play Raymond and Dave Casper together. His stats would have been better. The Colts misused him. That’s the coaches problem. He already had a great quarterback in Bert Jones. I hope Raymond gets in the Hall of Fame now, as an old-timer. He deserves it. He was the prototype tight end of the 1970’s. Anyone that wants to help me and provide me info on his career, email me at I need his 40-yard dash time. I do have a 4.6, but want to make sure. Danny Jones

  3. October 5, 2016

    Good story Ron.

  4. Barry Corrigan
    December 22, 2016

    Good article. I saw Chester play later in his career during his second stint with the Raiders and his outstanding season with the Oakland Invaders of the USFL. During the 1979 season the had Casper, Chester, Derrick Ramsey and Todd Christensen on the roster. Christensen had not yet been converted to tight end yet hence his being #46. After six games of the 1980 season Casper was traded to the Houston Oilers. While none of the others were exactly a Casper, they wanted to play in Oakland. Casper by that time did not. Casper was the best tight end of the late 70’s – he was a punishing blocker and big play receiver. Chester probably had a little more speed but Casper was a better inline blocker, better hands. Both men ran well after the catch as evidenced by their identical 13.8 yards per catch in their careers. Casper had 53 regular seasons touch downs when you count the Holly Roller play. Add to his seven post season touchdown catches and that is 60 touchdowns on 406 catches counting the regular season plus playoff totals. Jason Written as of now had 62 touchdown regular season catches on almost 1,100 receptions. He is overrated as a blocker. An example is Written could never successfully block the top outside linebackers like Demarcus Ware when he was on Denver playing his former team or top ends like Jared Allen of the Vikings. Former backups Anthony Fasano and Marcellus Bennett were expontially better blockers as is Gavin Escobar is now as Witten’s backup. Casper consistently blocked killers of his day like Cedrick Hardman and Feed Sean just to name some. When Casper became a starter, the Raiders near the Steelers three straight times in 1976- 77.’

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