NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
In the coming weeks and months leading up to the 2014 NFL draft, NEPatriotsDraft.com will profile college prospects that potentially fit the needs and draft seating of the New England Patriots. In this second installment, we will take a closer look at the film behind Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro.
Jace Amaro isn’t fused to one position on the football field. But if there was a title suited for Texas Tech’s 21-year-old junior, it would be called “new-age” tight end.
An evolving position across the NFL landscape, coaching staffs are finding ways to mismatch defensive personnel with tight ends that can catch first and block second. In turn, general managers and scouting departments are searching for prospects with the size, the fluidity and the skill to be used interchangeably within an offense.
The 6’5”, 260-pound Amaro fits the prototype.
Coached by former New England Patriots’ sixth-round pick Kliff Kingsbury in the Red Raiders’ spread offense, Amaro lined up all over the field in 2013. He was out wide, he was in the slot, he was offline, and he was inline. And after netting just 32 catches for 466 yards and six touchdowns over his first two seasons in Lubbock – partially due to an injury absence for final six games of 2012 – it all came together for the San Antonio native this past fall.
The Texas Tech passing game went through No. 22, as Amaro amassed 106 receptions for an all-time positional record 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns. By the end of the season, he had accounted for 20 percent of the offense’s total production.
He can find the soft spot in coverage. He can use his length and soft hands to extend for the ball. He can fight for yards after the catch. And, while not overpowering, he can block serviceably.
All things considered, there’s reason to believe he will be a first-round commodity this May.
Even if he wasn’t a John Mackey Award finalist, even if he was in an air-raid scheme, even if he isn’t the fastest or the strongest – Amaro carries the diversified traits teams look for in a tight end prospect. And at pick 29 overall, the Patriots figure to be one of the teams in seating to give him an extended look.
With that in mind, here is a film glance into what the All-American provides as a run-blocker and pass-catcher, courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com’s game cut-ups.
A Wavering But Willing Blocker
The jury is still out when it comes to Amaro’s future as an inline blocker. While he embodies the physical measurements to play in a three-point stance next to the offensive tackle, that’s not necessarily where he’s won his battles.
Amaro appears to be in the mold of a flex tight end on rushing downs – playing off the line. And outside of short-yardage and red-zone situations, this was his primary outlet in Texas Tech’s aerial offense. Within it, his non-route assignments were often stalk blocks – breaking into the second level before locking onto a defender.
Amaro is a tough player who has good foot quickness to pair with the mass required to hold his own. On decoy or screen plays, he does a nice job selling his route before turning the table on his coverage. However, in respect to driving through his block both low and square on run plays, Amaro flashes but also leaves something to be desired.
At times, he doesn’t pursue with the aggressiveness you’d like to see. At times, his angles allow the defender to swim around him. At times, he disconnects from contact sooner than the ball-carrier needs him to.
Yet at times, he displays the urgency to pursue and engage through the whistle.
This was seen in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30 versus Arizona State.
On a 1st-and-goal from the Sun Devils’ eight-yard line early in the first quarter, the Red Raiders employed “11” personnel for a deceptive run design. Quarterback Davis Webb stood in shotgun with halfback DeAndre Washington abutting him to the left for an inside handoff, while slot receiver Jakeem Grant went in motion across the field for a fake fly sweep.
Amaro split out in the seam, prepped to take on 6’0”, 244-pound Arizona State outside linebacker Chris Young on the edge of the 4-3 front.
As Webb handled the snap and exchanged with Washington, Amaro’s opposition was caught walking towards the sweep.
It afforded Amaro an opportunity to release and pivot diagonally without much deterrence. After a hop step, he was in contact with the linebacker and established the inside hands.
As Washington inherited the ball and curved his way towards the line of scrimmage, Amaro secured the outside versus Young, pushing his block back on his heels.
Amaro’s back was knocked slightly upright upon doing so. Yet he maintained a low center of gravity to combat it.
Amaro widened his base, leveraging Young out of his. The linebacker was vying to club back into the forefront of the play. But, nevertheless, Washington got to the line with two second-level blocks in place.
He had room if he could evade the first level.
Amaro bettered his lean and thrust Young downward, while Washington surpassed the line and maneuvered his way towards the end zone via the hashes.
In the process of his maneuvering, though, his lead block was shed and the safety carved around to contain the pathway.
The tailback was wrapped up both low and high at the three-yard line. But Amaro successfully did his part from a punch, hand placement, and leg drive standpoint until the final moment transpired.
It was five-yard gain.
Now Amaro is far from a seamless blocker, but he’s not alone in that regard. Tight ends don’t have to be superior blockers to be first-day draft choices. After all, it’s harder to find a dynamic receiver than it is to find a powerful blocker at the position.
But if there was one integral prerequisite for tight ends entering the next level, it would be willingness. And willingness is something Amaro possesses.
If he can harness that aspect of his game against larger, quicker, stronger NFL linebackers, it would go a long way towards broadening his impact inline or elsewhere.
A Sure, Intermediate Receiver
Amaro doesn’t stand out in terms of straight-line speed or elusiveness. He doesn’t rely on those terms to make plays in the passing game, either.
He’s a flexible route-runner who thrives in the underneath, but there’s something to be said for his vertical and outside presence as well. His short-area quickness is seen as he eclipses defenders in and out of breaks. And equally vital, his field awareness is seen as he finds the void in coverage and negotiates through it.
It’s a dependable skill set.
It’s a skill set that explains, at least in part, how Amaro totaled at least eight passes in 10 contests and 100 yards in six contests last season. And while top-tier competition lies ahead – competition consisting of jams off the snap and safety bumps at the top of routes – Amaro’s success should translate.
He is a sure receiver that can turn subtlety into enormity.
This was illustrated against West Virginia on Oct. 19.
Early in the fourth quarter on a 2nd-and-7, the Red Raiders sent trips left, a flanker right, and coupled running back Kenny Williams next to Webb for blitz pickup.
Amaro lined up between the hashes opposite the Mountaineers’ 3-4, two-deep defense. He was orchestrated to run a nod and go behind the coverage of linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who was holding the inside ground with outside linebacker Isaiah Bruce rushing.
As Webb took the shotgun snap, Amaro released five yards outside.
It was a move that drew his man near to guard the flat. Yet at that juncture, the tight end switched course. He wasn’t heading to the flat, nor was he heading underneath for a dig.
But Amaro leaned inward to suggest it anyway.
That was what it took for him to cross behind the 6’2”, 232-pound Kwiatkoski.
Amaro shifted gears and widened his arms to fend off the linebacker’s hands as he looked back for the pass. He had a 15-yard window between himself and the safety shell.
Separated from the linebacker, Amaro stretched his arms away from his body to reel in the pass.
He kept his feet moving in the direction he sought. Concurrently, Darwin Cook, West Virginia’s 5’11”, 203-pound safety, was fast moving into the picture.
Amaro tucked the ball and lowered his pad level to absorb the linebacker-safety collision. Cook hit him at the waist with his shoulder; Kwiatkoski hit him in the back with his hands.
The two forces stabilized the tight end.
Amaro escaped the West Virginia sandwich and sprinted down the right sideline. He towed 6’2”, 244-pound linebacker Tyler Anderson for 16 yards before 5’10”, 200-pound safety Karl Joseph delivered the deciding knock at the 30-yard line.
The play broke two tackles and attained 37 yards.
Amaro is strong over the middle. Though he doesn’t catch all the passes thrown through traffic, he uses his frame well to shield for the ball and secure with his hands.
He gets the most out of a pass because of his proficiency in stride. And from there, he has the athleticism and bulk to deflect tackles while running downhill.
Amaro’s prolific junior season wasn’t merely a byproduct of the Red Raiders’ air-raid passing game; it was byproduct of his ability to diverge defenses.
And while the numbers suggest he was a one-year wonder, it would be remiss to overlook his signs of prominence as a sophomore. But by unknowingly playing through a spleen laceration, a fractured rib and internal bleeding to tally 156 yards against West Virginia on Oct. 13, 2012, his initial rise was short-lived.
His second rise has not been.
Amaro looks the part of an imposing tight end. He looks the part of a player who can make plays inline, offline, in the slot or out wide. And although his game tape reveals concerns as far as blocking is considered, his game tape also reveals the potential to become a good one.