In the space of a year, 2014 2nd round pick Jace Amaro has gone from a potential breakout player to possible camp cut. Facing a make-or-break training camp, how and where can Amaro set himself apart from his competition on the New York Jets?
Before predicting what 2016 could have in store for Amaro, let’s rewind to 2014 and go over the prospect he was and his production during his rookie season.
Amaro declared early for the draft after breaking the NCAA single season record for tight end receiving yards. He can lend this success partially to playing as what was essentially an oversized slot receiver, playing a reported 87.5% of his snaps in the slot as a junior at Texas Tech. He proceeded to be the combine’s top tight end performer in several categories and solidified his value as a top fifty pick in the 2014 draft. Amaro entered the league with an NFL body for the position and a willingness to block, but with very little experience playing as an in-line tight end.
As expected, the Jets during Amaro’s rookie season used him primarily as a move tight end, mostly looking to get him involved in the passing game. Playing just a shade under 40% of the snaps, 68.4% of them had Amaro running a pass route according to Pro Football Focus. In comparison, starting tight end Jeff Cumberland ran a pass route 41.2% of his snaps. Unfortunately for Amaro’s development, Rex Ryan’s staff chose to play familiar faces in an attempt to save his job rather than play youth over the course of the entire year. This led to Jeff Cumberland consistently starting over Amaro the entire season, despite Cumberland being arguably the worst performer on an offense full of major disappointments.
After being the top performer of an admittedly meager 2014 rookie tight end class, buzz built around Amaro as a potential breakout player for the Jets in 2015. Unfortunately his sophomore season was gone in an instant, suffering a shoulder injury in the first preseason game that ended him on IR. With a pivotal third year coming up and a staff that has no ties to him, where does Amaro go from here?
Compete with Quincy Enunwa at H-back.
This is the role the Jets had originally planned for Amaro last year. There is good reason for that; it’s the role his skill set is ultimately best suited for. This role isn’t that different to what Amaro was doing his rookie year as a second tight end in Marty Mornhinweg’s system. Often while Cumberland would play in-line, Amaro could line up almost anywhere: in-line on the other side or next to Cumberland, as a fullback, slot receiver or split out wide. This helped minimize the amount of blocking Amaro would have to perform against bigger ends and linebackers, more often seeing favorable match-ups against opposition secondary. Naturally at 6’5″ and 265 pounds, Amaro matched up better in these situations.
Not too long ago Joe did a piece on Enunwa that shows Amaro has an uphill battle to take snaps away from the fellow 2014 draftee. Despite Amaro being the 2nd round pick and Enunwa the late-round flyer, it is Enunwa that looks most likely to be a potential breakthrough player for the Jets offense in 2016. This is not to say that Amaro doesn’t have useful traits for the offense in this role because he certainly does. The problem is that it’s a specific role that is currently held by a player that at the same age has already shown the ability to tick all the boxes necessary to play the position. Enunwa’s weaknesses are similar to Amaro’s as well, notably some poor drops and occasional stiffness in terms of route running. Given that, Amaro really doesn’t have a skill that Enunwa already is bringing to the table. Conversely, one trait that Enunwa has over Amaro that is key is explosiveness. Amaro may move well for a 265 pound man and can be a problem after the catch, but he could never take a catch in the flat and dart down the sideline for nearly 50 yards the way Enunwa did against New England late last season.
Simply put, if it’s Amaro versus Enunwa for first team H-back in training camp, Enunwa is the favorite. Amaro does have better natural receiving skills however, so if Enunwa’s receiving skills remain unrefined and drops remain a problem, Amaro will have a real chance to jump ahead.
Compete to start as an in-line tight end.
On paper this is the path of least resistance, and the position Amaro believes he should be playing. There was little doubt that tight end was in need of upgrade after last season and the only competition standing in Amaro’s way here is Kellen Davis, arguably the team’s most underwhelming starter.
The issue here is that Jace Amaro has never really played tight end in the sense of how the Jets use one under Chan Gailey. The in-line tight end is a blocking position first and foremost in this offense. Kellen Davis last year ran a pass route on just 25.8% of his snaps according to PFF. Consider again the role Amaro was playing as a collegiate junior with the vast majority of his snaps as a slot receiver. As a rookie, the Jets offense under Marty Mornhinweg didn’t treat him much differently than an oversized receiver or H-back type player that the Jets currently view Amaro as. Take for example his most productive game as a rookie, the 10 catch performance against Denver. According to PFF Amaro played 36 snaps. By my count, he played only 3 of those as an in-line tight end. The rest came either in the slot or completely split wide, with one snap as a fullback.
If Amaro does get his way and competes as an in-line tight end in camp, there are two important questions to answer in predicting production for 2016. Has Amaro shown anything thus far to convince anybody he can be at least a decent blocker when called upon? And if he can fulfill that necessary level of competence, would Gailey then also scheme to utilize the in-line tight end more in the passing game?
The first question is a little difficult to answer based on the pure lack of opportunities Amaro has had to prove himself as a blocker, but that may tell us something in itself. As a rookie Amaro was asked to pass protect on just 11 of his 380 total snaps, while running passes routes more than twice as often as he was in for run blocking according to PFF.
Amaro unfortunately did not get a ton of experience blocking as a rookie, and the few opportunities were mostly unimpressive. Here are examples below of Amaro being tasked with a run and pass block like a traditional tight end.
As for whether Gailey would utilize the in-line tight end more frequently as a receiver if the player can also block competently, it’s unlikely. Gailey’s offense functions with a receiving tight end (H-back) and a blocking in-line player, and they’re pretty well defined roles. In Buffalo it was much the same. Scott Chandler, a player before his retirement that some touted as a logical tight end upgrade due to the Gailey connection, was actually the team’s H-back. In 2012 it was Lee Smith as the in-line guy, who ran a pass route on just 6.5% of his snaps.
The talk of Amaro having an impact as an upgrade over Kellen Davis just doesn’t equate. In Gailey’s offense it is a block-first position which has never been Amaro’s game. While there is a “well anyone is better than Kellen Davis” element to this, it is more likely someone else surpasses Davis here than Amaro.
Specialize as a red zone weapon.
Despite Quincy Enunwa having the inside track for Amaro’s most logical position, there could feasibly still be a role for Amaro in the Jets offense. Already one of the best red zone teams in the league last season, the Jets could further cause problems by adding Amaro as another towering option to cause height-weight-speed match-ups inside the twenty.
A red zone offense rolling out Marshall, Decker, Amaro, Enunwa and Forte has four big bodied receivers and one of the league’s most accomplished pass catching backs of his generation for an opposing defense to contend with. One of the keys for offensive improvement over last season, regardless of the quarterback, is having consistent passing outlets for situations where Marshall and Decker are drawing too much attention. In an offense predicated on spreading the field and identifying mismatches, Amaro would get his fair share of advantageous opportunities and help Marshall and Decker continue to see there’s.
Trade bait or training camp cut.
It’s the worst-case scenario, but one to still be wary of. Amaro had a slow start in both of his first two training camps, and this year the Jets are unlikely to be as patient with him. Particularly if Enunwa looks head-and-shoulders above Amaro and shows growth as a receiver, the Jets brass could view Amaro as expendable.
If the Jets are set on moving on from Amaro, a trade would be ideal. The Jets would be unlikely to get anything past a late-round pick given Amaro’s career arc thus far, but it would be better than nothing for a team that remains on the older side. Given Amaro’s easily attainable rookie contract and relatively high draft status, there would likely be suitors.
If you’re the doom-and-gloom type, you could argue that Amaro’s insistence on being the Y tight end rather than a H-back could already be creating some dissent between the player and coaches. If Amaro in the end is not willing to accept the positional role the coaches have planned him, then his time will indeed be short-lived. Todd Bowles in year one showed on multiple occasions how he handles culture misfits.
Amaro being released or traded shouldn’t be met with outright shock if it does happen later this summer. Nonetheless, with an offensive coordinator that prioritizes utilizing the talent he has to put players in space and in favorable match-ups, there logically should be a role for Amaro on this team somewhere.
Prediction: On the depth chart Amaro will be listed as a backup at tight end, but in reality he’ll be an occasionally utilized backup to Enunwa as an H-back. He sticks around as a supplementary passing game weapon and chess piece in the red zone.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com