Rivera was part of Oregon’s typical group of California signees in 2008, earning high marks as a tight end prospect nationally out of Valencia’s Birmingham High School. But after redshirting his first year, he found himself buried on the depth chart behind future NFL players Ed Dickson, Dion Jordan (now an outstanding defensive prospect for the Ducks) and David Paulson. Two transfers later, Rivera himself is looking like a potential contributor on Sunday using his athleticism and strong hands.
Instead of sitting out a season transferring from Oregon to another FBS program, he played for the successful College of the Canyons JUCO program (32 receptions, 316 yards, three touchdowns) in 2009. He picked Tennessee as his next home out of a range of suitors, and played all 13 games for the Volunteers (managing 11 receptions for 112 yards) as a sophomore back-up to another NFL-caliber performer in Luke Stocker. Finally getting his chance to start in 2011, he lined up with the first team in all 12 games, covering 344 yards and scoring once on his 29 catches. This year, as a senior, Rivera caught 36 passes for 562 yards and five touchdowns.
Solid move-the-chains receiver with the required toughness for the position. Good hands and flexibility to bring in passes on the run and continue over the middle or downfield. Extends his arms, and catches the ball off his frame. Has strider’s speed to threaten the seam. Runs tough and will stiff-arm oncoming defenders after the catch. Flashes athleticism to leap defenders and flexibility to avoid linebackers on crossers. Gives good effort as an in-line blocker, moves his feet, extends his strong arms, and usually gets his hands on his target’s numbers. Willing to sustain throughout the play against ends or linebackers, also against second-level targets from a stand-up position. Also does his job when lined up as a lead blocker in the backfield.
Needs to add more mass to hold up at the point of attack as a blocker. Straight-line speed and explosion off the line are also average, might not separate from NFL linebackers consistentlyl. Lateral quickness is also average, can be out-quicked on the edge to allow his man into the play, ends up on the ground at times when blocking on the move from the backfield.
Rivera originally signed with Oregon out of high school, but the Ducks’ depth at tight end caused him to transfer to a junior college for one year before arriving in Knoxville. After one season behind Luke Stocker, he began really using his hands and athleticism to help the Volunteers in 2011 and 2012. Rivera fits the current trend of teams searching for pass-catching tight ends able to take advantage of coverage mismatches, so he might earn late-round grades come April.