We’re still getting snow up here in the Northeast, but the NFL Draft is creeping closer and closer. Thus, it’s time to tackle some of the better fits for the Jets at another position of need: tight end.
Jeff Cumberland has not warranted even a “show me” deal in New York and I don’t even have to joke about Kellen Winslow’s incident in that Target parking lot because he’s not coming back in green anyway. Zach Sudfeld has promise, but the position absolutely needs a starter since Sudfeld is anything but that.
Considering the Jets’ offense could take two or even three more years to have a chance at being adequately bolstered, I still believe that 2014 may see a “stop-gap” type of free agent to occupy tight end. Yet, the tight end talent at the top of the draft is still definitely worth a look, especially considering the Jets may find the best value there at 18.
Much of the discussion here will revolve around the debate between Jace Amaro and Eric Ebron. There is a large drop-off after the pair and there probably is not an NFL-ready starter in the rest of the class.
Amaro and Ebron will be an interesting debate among Jet fans until May, since they both essentially fit the offense, but still win through different facets of their games. I can finally comfortably side with one of the two after much deliberation for me and a lot of film.
Jace Amaro, Texas Tech, Junior-
6’5, 260 lbs
Neither of these two top tight ends, in my mind, are even near elite prospects. They are very good ones in a class that lacks consistent talent down the board at the position. However, there is undoubtedly a lot to love about both.
Amaro dominates by consistently getting open and there aren’t many routes or spots on the field that are outside of his range. His acceleration and pure speed are impressive to start with from a stocky target with a filled out frame. He wasn’t pressed often at all at Texas Tech due to his power in the slot. However, he proved at times that he could shrug it off with his burst off the line and combination of agility and feet that are both quick and powerful for strides.
It is really difficult to find a tight end prospect who furnishes really fluid route running in his game. In fact, it’s arguably decreased in value over the years. With the athleticism of some dominant tight ends, all they need is a mis-match to easily find open gaps in defenses.
Very rarely can a tight end go man to man and beat men with solely his separation ability through pure route running and not just physicality within it. Amaro possesses a few traits that hint at a gold mine in this area.
The Junior is such an enigma and not in a bad way by any means. Amaro runs his routes really tall, which restricts the power he can maintain in each cut of his routes. However, he has this incredible shake and sets up defenders to play his routes poorly by using his agility.
He is basically standing up straight at times at the top of his route, he finds a lot of separation right at the point of his first break. Thus, Amaro might not find a lot of separation deep since his speed can only do so much, but he’s extremely efficient at finding open gaps and inserting himself in zones for quicker, more dependable routes in the intermediate areas downfield.
Amaro might be told to work on this by NFL teams at the Combine and possibly by the team that drafts him. However, it allows him to be versatile in his route tree and he can find some success early on in his career before refining his game further.
When it comes to his hands, Amaro is much stronger than Ebron at the catch point, from what I’ve been exposed to. Amaro doesn’t use his frame as well in regards to attacking the ball, but he does it fine enough to be more successful than Ebron over the middle when catching contested passes.
He can take a hit and with the ball in his hands, he can deliver one too. When running with the ball, Amaro not only uses his strength but also his agility, and it combines for a menacing duo.
His blocking is, well, what you would expect from a guy who makes his living from catching passes (106 receptions this year, oh by the way). His effort is commendable and he can deliver acceptable seal blocks on the edge, but Amaro rarely gets to the second level on run plays and he’s typically not successful in eliminating defenders when he gets there.
An important note however, is that his power is at least put to use when in line and not positioned in the slot. Unlike Ebron, Amaro is typically successful when using his leg power to knock back rushers, whereas Ebron is what I would call a “pusher,” in which he uses power, but so little of it since he’s really only extending his arms and not using his full body.
After reading the run down with the former Red Raider, hopefully it is evident that while Amaro is limited in what he can do, what he can do is of great value, especially for a very open passing game for Geno Smith.
Eric Ebron, North Carolina, Junior
6’4, 245 lbs
I already covered where Ebron doesn’t match Amaro for the most part, but the Tar Heel product has a lot to offer elsewhere. Ebron is noticeably smaller than Amaro, but still packs a full frame with even more fluidity and athleticism than Jace. Of course, he is also more raw.
Ebron played both in line and in the slot for the Tar Heels in 2013. He was depended on to move the chains and win in man to man situations, and he dominated. The tight end wins with his smooth and quick release off the line, and his pure speed and change of direction ability allow him to run very clean routes.
When compared to Amaro, however, they’re things he can’t do downfield before the ball gets there. Smarter linebackers and defensive backs will be able to play off-man on Ebron or bracket him off the line, two tactics that will likely throw him off because his physicality in his route running lacks consistency and explosiveness. Not to mention, some of the ways Amaro fools defenders will never be attainable for Ebron; they’re just world class tricks.
Ebron unfortunately reminds me of a certain tight end we know all too well when it comes to contested catches: Jeff Cumberland. Ebron can make tactful hands-catches and transition to a runner when not immediately faced with danger, but everything deteriorates as defenders get closer and bigger. He panics far too often in such situations, and bails on too many core necessities to complete the catch just to ready himself for contact.
Even more concerning, when he locks in an focuses properly on completing the catch despite incoming danger or competing defenders, his struggles remain. His hands simply aren’t strong enough or synchronized with his arm movements for the ball to make these catches in traffic on a consistent basis.
Sure he may possess the soft hands to make impressive one-handed grabs, but what is it worth when these become significantly weaker when passes are placed in tighter coverage?
Ebron may be the better athlete than Amaro overall (he was electric when used sparingly as a pass rusher in certain situations in 2012!), Amaro has rare tools that can be developed into something really special in the NFL, while Ebron still has to conquer some of the chief concerns on his game.
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Junior, Washington
6’6, 258 lbs
Let me restate something for necessary emphasis: the drop-off after the initial pair of tight ends is completely drastic. Sefarian-Jenkins might be smart value in the third round factoring in his off-the-field issues, making it a two round gap differential. Even after a maddeningly disappointing 2013 for the Husky, the Junior still has a unique skillset to offer.
ASJ is a large target with a completely built frame. In fact, he is so jacked that one could argue he looks and plays a bit top-heavy, which does not bode well for him. His strength lets him block quite efficiently all around, but he could give a better effort and use his legs more to get a better push when in line. Yet, his pure power allows him to reach defenders with substantial blocks when he’s only using an arm or half strength when trailing.
As a receiver, Sefarian-Jenkins had a 2013 that really generalized what he can do. At times, his pure speed hinders him and he struggles to get any credible separation. His hands are very strong and adequate, so even in tight coverage he can catch passes with ease. Unfortunately, his natural hands suffer a bit from lazy and simply inconsistent catching discipline.
For example, he rarely treads back to the ball on routes when he faces the quarterback. Because of his lacking speed and slower foot speed, this hurts him more than it would others. He isn’t able to get to the ball as fast as he can, so it takes even longer to get to the catch point to complete the reception.
Upon mentioning ASJ’s slow feet, one might imagine it would make him a poor route runner as well. While he tends to round off a lot of his routes, Sefarian-Jenkins actually gets the job done for the most part. He’s especially dangerous in the red zone because of his size, but also because his physicality and massive frame boxes out defenders through seams.
Thus, routes that require only one cut can be executed nicely by the big target because of his power, and then it’s simply difficult to contest the pass with any sort of separation he has because of his physicality. The Jets got the most they could out of Jeff Cumberland by using his power through the middle on routes just like these to take the top off defenses, so ASJ could have a role.
Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State, Senior
6’6, 255 lbs
Gillmore is widely regarded as a Day 3 pick as of right now, but I think the online scouting community will pick up on his skills more as the Combine creeps closer. I am a big fan of his. There is always the competition level issue with small-schoolers, but Gillmore proved he could hang with the big names in Mobile for the Senior Bowl this year. He performed really well. Let’s take a look into his skillset and how it benefits a team like the Jets.
The Senior is extremely cut for his frame. Though he stands 6’6, he is much leaner than a guy like Sefarian-Jenkins, without losing significant or any functional strength overall. As a result he can run extremely well and gets off the line instantly. He is not a burner, but athleticism is tied to speed and agility a bit too much these days. If you have a solid athlete like Gillmore who can explode into full speed early, maintain fluidity throughout the play and show nice leaping ability, you’re set.
What’s special about Gillmore will offer teams a lot of value in the mid rounds, and that’s his smarts. He’s somewhat similar to Sefarian-Jenkins in the fact that he’s typically a vertical route runner, and that’s how he wins leverage, but his attentiveness allows much more.
A mobile quarterback like Geno Smith will love Gillmore’s ability to lose defenders after a route has been attempted, or he has been knocked off his original route. Gillmore’s intelligence helps him roll with the flow of the play and find open gaps in defenses’ zones, thus allowing for quarterbacks to find him on extended plays.
Even in his normal, everyday routes, Gillmore’s knowledge of the defense and coverages helps him round routes off or extend them to make it more dynamic and find more separation.
Other pluses in Gillmore’s game consist of his solid body control at the point of the catch and versatility. To start, his hands aren’t world class, but he puts himself in awesome position to come down with poorly thrown balls or passes his catch radius simply isn’t good enough to catch normally.
Additionally, his versatility helps particularly in his blocking. At Colorado State, he saw time in line, in the slot, or as an H-back. All he needs to block are his fluidity and respectable strength, and he can do enough to get the job done on any sort of run when he’s in line or in the backfield. His smarts and effort are on point, and it’s really that simple for a tight end to be a good enough blocker if those first two skills are in place.
Gillmore would provide a lot of things that would suit the Jets’ offense. For Geno Smith, he can immediately contribute with his abilities that help him catch inaccurate passes and the smarts that always have him open when coverage slacks in focus.
Additionally, his versatility, especially as a blocker on run plays, would equal a lesser necessity for the Jets to give snaps to an actual fullback, which limits their spread offense significantly. I think he’ll exceed expectations at the Combine, and I actually wouldn’t mind him with the Jets’ second third rounder at the rate he’s climbing at.
Troy Niklas, Notre Dame, Junior
I’m flat-out not a fan of Niklas, who rose in popularity after declaring but has died down considerably since. In my opinion, I see him as a highly overrated receiver and very ordinary in all other phases of his game.
In fact, I watched about 12-15 tight ends to rank, and I tried to find one that would be suited well enough for the Jets for me to rank higher, but I couldn’t since it’s a really diluted class after the top guys. It’s not that Niklas is a bad player, I just don’t understand any of the high praise he gets when compared to Amaro and Ebron when they offer outstanding potential in special areas, whereas Niklas is painfully ordinary.
I really don’t see him as a starting tight end in the NFL, even. Yet, a really bad class after the early depth might have him still on the Jets’ radar if he were to drop.
Niklas has receiving potential, he just doesn’t really know how to use it. His catch radius could be pretty solid, but he senses defenders around him and that results in a lot of tentative attempts at his targets. He drops quite a few balls based on weak hands when hit by defenders, and even in short to intermediate distance. He’s simply not dynamic at the catch like his rumored athleticism suggests, and his discipline is not good in that same regard.
If Niklas is there for the Jets after the third, they could absolutely take him and have some solid value. Yet I really only see him as a second tight end target. Since he is weak as a blocker for his size and not as versatile as guys like Gillmore or Richard Rogers, I don’t see an ideal fit. His potential as a receiving will be valuable enough, but hopes will need to be high that he can be coached up.