2014 NFL Draft Close-Up: Texas Tech Tight End Jace Amaro

Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, a 2003 Patriots draft pick, optimized the versatility of Jace Amaro this fall. And since then, No. 22 has emerged as one of the premier tight ends in the 2014 NFL draft. (USA Today Sports Images)

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.

Outlook

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.

Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Draft Close-Up, Film Breakdown, Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

34 Responses to “2014 NFL Draft Close-Up: Texas Tech Tight End Jace Amaro”

  1. Roman says:

    Amaro will be gone before the Pats pick at #29.

  2. Accuan says:

    I like Colt Lyerla better. Ebron is also another top prospect. Hard to see him landing so late, and wouldn’t much sense to trade up for him that would just increase his financial value, especially if Ebron is still on the board. unless the Pats have excellent scouting report on the guy, but finding a replacement for Hernandez ? Yikes, the guy was a fourth round pick, I hope they do and go back to 2011 mode.

    • Lyerla has all kinds of red flags ( looks like the May Day parade in Moscow) but he has talent. Even so I’ve put him on some of my day 3 mock drafts.

  3. Anthony says:

    For those of you doubting Jace Amaro, are making a deadly mistake. I have watched him for the last two seasons and this kid is unstoppable. You have to game plan your entire defense around him. I don’t see any tight ends in the third or 4th round who will compare to this guy. With Brady having this kind of weapon lurking in the open field is music to my ears. If he seriously falls to 29 (I don’t believe he will and for those of you saying he’s a 3rd/4th round talent, have no football sense at all) the Pats better scoop him up and issue “Thank You” cards to the previous 5-10 teams.

    • acm says:

      Agree. I don’t get the hate on Amaro here. I can understand and agree with those saying that he might not be a fit for what the Pats may be looking for in a TE (e.g. he is not a great blocker) but to say he is a scrub is ridiculous, imo. If the Pats still see Gronk as a long-term solution, I can see them go for a more pass-oriented TE like Amaro to complement him. And there is a good chance they keep a good blocker like Hooman anyway. And it’s not like they can’t coach Amaro into becoming a better blocker, like they did with AH too. Amaro would be deadly in the Pats system with Brady throwing the ball.
      In such a scenario, Amaro would be excellent value even with the 29th pick, although I have strong doubts he falls there at all.

      If they have doubts about Gronk’s future with the team, I think going for someone like CJ Fiedorowicz later in the draft and taking a flyer on Layerla in the 7th-FA (if available) might be the smart way to go. That way they could afford to trade down and get some extra picks in the top 3 rounds for other needs, as well.

      All in all, Amaro is one of just a few players I think have any chance of falling to 29th right now and still be worth a 1st round pick.

    • 3rd or 4th rounder? No way, this kid is a 1st round talent without a doubt. I agree with Anthony and acm completely. Wish he or ASJ would fall to #29, I grab either one of them right there.

  4. Ryan says:

    I don’t think that Amaro will fall to us at pick 29. Too many teams who could use a tight end are situated in the high teens and low twenties and I think they will see those stats and struggle to pass on him. He will most likely be grabbed from between picks 18-21, or KC could wait for him at 23. Belicheck will probably have to trade up to grab him, so I don’t see many situations where the Patriots are able to pick him up and still have a good draft. Unless Belicheck feels like Amaro is a sure thing he will not do that, so we will have to wait and see. I think Amaro would be well worth it at 29 and it would be a mistake to pass on him given the depth of talent available at two of our other major needs, DT and S.

  5. J H TARBORO says:

    Peyton Manning, how are they still giving him a pass, I was watching the NFL network and they were talking about Peyton’s legacy and mentioned that this game didn’t effect it. Bullshit, if Tom Brady would have lost that badly it would be a different storyline, it shows that most of the country wanted him to win and in the end he goes down as the greatest QB to win only 1 ring, he’s never going to win any other ring and this one is going to haunt him for along time. This should give Tom Brady the greatest incentive in the world to comeback harder to try win all in 2014, and it’s going to start with draft, Nick Casario don’t let him down, we need real weapons on both sides of the ball.

    • Accuan says:

      Do you know how many sponsors the guy has ? Plus he does not have great success in the post season, so most ex players have had success against him, so it’s not a big deal to praise. Brady is a different story, hopefully so he retires with four, but will ESPN and NFL.network really publish articles about the monument of QB he is ? Montana, as flawless as he was in the SBs, and he was lol, no salary cap at the time.

    • When your right your right JH. Now he’s a good QB, no doubt, but he has done less with more while Brady has done far more with less throughout their historys and if it were not for the constant media hype Manning would be viewed as one who can’t get it done in the big games.

  6. Pete H. says:

    Where do folks see Hightower’s long-term role on the team? In 2 years, will he be an outside linebacker, a middle linebacker, a Ninkovich replacement at defensive end, or just plain off the team after his rookie deal?

    • Darth Hoodie says:

      This one’s easy. He will be the starting MLB for years to come. In fact, the whole core of Mayo-HT-Collins should be the cornerstone of the defense over the next era of Patriots football.

    • I’ve been saying for weeks I believe his natural position is DE.

    • acm says:

      run-stuffing ILB, a more athletic version of Spikes, so to speak. That’s the role he played at Bama and has good instincts for it.

      • Russell says:

        I agree, I don’t see him as quick enough at DE.

        • Maybe, but he’s still a liability in coverage imo.

        • Alex (freemanator) says:

          Especially not flexible enough. Won’t be able to turn the corner easily.

          Steve, Hightower is limited in coverage no doubt, but a lot of his problems have been when he’s been playing a position that doesn’t suit him.
          He is ideally suited to ILB in the 34, but even as MLB in the 43, he can drop into short zones well. But when Mayo got injured, and before Collins emerged, he was having to play OLB, with deeper zone drops, and some occasional man responsibilities. Those are not his forte.

          He looked a lot better later in the year, because he was playing to his strengths.

    • Accuan says:

      I expect the Pats to be a 3-4 on 1st and 2nd downs, so he’s real a MLB. Doesn’t make any sense to play him at OLB.

  7. Pete H. says:

    Should the Pats try to recreate a base offense with 2 tight ends, or with 1? Amaro looks like he would re-create that, if Gronk is healthy, with Amendola in the slot and Dobson on the outside. However, as Joe E O says, if there is a good outside receiver available, it might make sense to try to build a 3 WR base offense instead, given that we have already invested in a slot receiver. Amaro could be good, but I wouldn’t mind targeting a guy later in the draft and de-emphasizing this position a bit. The Pats need a good skill position starter, not necessarily a Hernandez replacement.

    • jim r says:

      They have a bunch of young wr’s. They got some OJT last year. There are a few that were on IR/practice squad that could develop. If you go the WR route sign Bolden he brings a toughness with him I think they need.

    • Accuan says:

      They really need another TE so it’s hard to pass on one of those talented TEs. Sure they can draft another WR, pretty high, why not, add talent on a rookie deal. But you still need a TE. Draft is complicated because there’s the strategy of loading on defense, get stout, get depth, but at the same time the Pats just lost Hernandez, probably Edelman, so hard to pass on a talented WR. Or even a RB.

  8. Russell says:

    I agree with Steve I think he will be a good TE in the NFL. I’m not sure he fits with what the Patriots want to do. I’m not a fan of ASJ, and think the Patriots get better value taking TE Arthur Lynch, or Rob Blanchflower 3d or 4th round.

  9. Joe E O says:

    This kid is a 6-5 slot receivers who is listed as a TE (just like Tyle Eifert). Why would you pick him if you Kelvin Benjamin on the board. They are about the same size – and I am going to predict that Benjamin is going to test as being more explosive. Make it easy for Tom Brady – give him big targets with big catch radius – Gronk, Dobson, Kelvin Benjamin – and then fill in with some smurfs in the slot…..Amendola, TJ Moe, Josh Boyce (notice how I am already conceding Edelman to the Jets

    • J H TARBORO says:

      Luv me some KB!!!

    • Pete H. says:

      Allen Robinson is another outside guy… may not be quite as physically impressive, but perhaps better suited to be able to pick up the offense due to his experience in Bill O’Brien’s offense, and still physically impressive. You’ll take the best advantage of Brady if you can give him some room for error with a physical stud, but also give him guys that will make smart decisions and work with Brady to exploit weaknesses in the defense. Good stuff Joe.

  10. Kjb says:

    If I see another mock draft of the pats taking a tight end I’m gonna throw up. Amaro is a good player but not on the 1st round wish list cuz the pats defense still needs pieces. Between free agency and the draft NE needs to sign talib and upgrade the pass rush, gronk can’t be trusted so a backups called for but that can be addressed later on. A solid front 4 on D would do so much for NE and the Super Bowl just showed that even the great Peyton Manning under pressure makes Elway consider throwing the pads on or giving Ryan Leaf a call.

  11. Henry says:

    He just ain’t that good. Simple as that. Take Stephon Tuitt and then worry about TE in the second, third, or 4th. More value there anyways.

  12. carlo strada says:

    Yuck! Amaro sucks, for Pats scheme hes got no value as a 1st rounder (not saying hes got any value, as 1st rounder isnt the best fit for us). I d rather one more complete+ regular TE. Niklas or ASJ early on the 2nd round would IMO be better options, and later Lynch or “the Golem” Fiedorowicz would also be acceptable prospects. Once picked the gronks insurance policy, go draft any kind of Joker TE you want, personally id take a flyer on Lyerla.

    • I don’t think he “sucks” and he still would be a good pick buy realize he only had one really good year. Saying that I agree ASJ, CJF, or Nik might be better for our team needs with a joker later (Lyerla ?).

  13. J H TARBORO says:

    Great TE, i watched his games this season, but i’m not sold on him in the 1st round, maybe 2nd or 3rd.

    • Fry says:

      There is no way Amaro falls to the 3rd. Perhaps early 2nd he will fall too but if he drops to 29 (fingers crossed) the Patriots could take him or deal the pick for a bunch of picks if there is a suitor.

  14. Bill Vermont says:

    he sounds great. But he broke the record held by James Carey who is the 3rd TE for Eagles and can’t get on the field. Number don’t always tell the whole story, but 106 catches in a college season is impressive. The3 Florida State kid, Kevin Robinson, is 6-5, 235 so they may serve the same role , ands that might hi competition instead of Niklas or one of the other TE

    • As you say Bill, he sounds great, and probably will be a very good TE in the NFL. Funny little more then a week age he was being considered as not being within our range of the 1st rd pick now it seems everyone is projecting him as our pick in the mocks. I think still he probably will go in the 15 to 22 range, but who knows? Personally I think ASJ would be the better fit but thats just my opinion. I like his better in line blocking ability combined with receiving skills that compare favorably with Amaro’s. jmo






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