The NFL is changing the way it looks at the role of a tight end, and that's perfectly OK with former Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro.
“They’re looking for someone who can play a tight end role as well as a receiver role," Amaro said during our phone interview. "I think it’s a great thing and it’s revolutionizing the game. People are starting to really find out what tight ends can bring to the game.”
Amaro fits this receiver-as-a-tight end role beautifully, as the 6'5" 265-pounder reportedly lined up in the slot almost 70 percent of the time last season for Texas Tech.
It doesn't matter whether it's the offensive side of the ball or the defensive side; guys who are tall, strong and fast pose matchup problems for guys standing across from them. Amaro split out in space against linebackers isn't fair because of his athleticism, while unfair against defensive backs because of his size and strength.
We've seen the same thing on the defensive side of the ball with the Seattle Seahawks defensive backs. Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor are all physical freaks for their positions.
Amaro broke the NCAA record for receiving yards by a tight end in 2013 with 1,352, and his 106 receptions rank second all time. He also added seven touchdowns as well.
But things weren't always easy.
In his first two years at Texas Tech, Amaro played in 19 games and had just 32 receptions.
But it was between his sophomore and junior seasons that Amaro made the transition into the player who became a household name in 2013.
“Going into my junior year I thought I was really robotic in just my route-running and different receiving things," Amaro said. "It wasn’t until coach (Kliff) Kingsbury and position coach (Eric) Morris gave me the chance to do what they wanted me to do. I felt like those two guys just really helped me relax and play the way I’m supposed to play and that’s do what I did this season.”
The biggest knock on Amaro and many of these "joker" type receiving-dominant tight ends is their ability to block.
One of the biggest reasons these tight ends cause matchup problems is because of the chess match coaches play against one another with different personnel groupings. When there are one or two tight ends on the field, the defensive coordinator has to play with a base or heavy defensive personnel.
But if the tight end doesn't offer anything as far as blocking, even with his size, defensive coordinators can be a little more reluctant to stick a linebacker out there in space against him.
It's still a matchup issue because of size, but the threat of being able to assist in the running game has to be there.
These are questions Amaro has had to deal with throughout this entire pre-draft process.
“Of course it’s troubling when people say I can’t block or that I don’t block enough," Amaro said. "I’ve had roles that were set up to only catch three or four balls and block the entire game, instead of catching 10 or 11 balls. It’s one of those things where I just did what my coaches asked me to do. That’s just the way our offense was and what we thought was going to be best for our team.”
But Amaro is confident when he's asked to line up in-line and block in the running game, via Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News.
If anyone has any questions about my blocking, they just need to watch my sophomore film," Amaro said. "I know I can block when I need to. I know I can drive people to the ground. That’s one of my biggest positives. That’s one thing I do better than a lot of guys.
Like many players, Amaro worked out at EXOS (formerly Athletes' Performance) to prepare for the NFL combine.
Amaro put up great numbers while there, posting a 4.74 40-yard dash, 28 reps on the bench press and a 33" vertical.
Now that the combine is over, Amaro wants to work on catching passes from an in-line tight end position—fully admitting he caught "around 20 passes" when lined up in-line to the right but significantly less from the opposite side.
“I caught maybe just one or two balls from the tight end position on the left side," Amaro said. "So that’s something I need to work on and something I wasn’t very comfortable with.”
The New England Patriots have been the team most associated with drafting Amaro as of now. They have a need at tight end with the array of injuries to Rob Gronkowski, not to mention the loss of Aaron Hernandez.
Amaro fits the role of the athletic tight end the Patriots have been at the forefront of presenting to the NFL over the last few seasons.
He met with the Patriots while he was at the combine and felt like the meeting went well, via Chase Goodbread of NFL.com.
It was good. They broke my tape down, and it looked like they liked me a lot. They said I fit their system very well, so I guess we'll see how it goes," Amaro said. "It's a hard organization to ignore, what they've had with the success at the tight end position. It's something that I'd like to bring along, to be in a system like that, whatever team it is.
Wherever Amaro ends up after the draft, whether it's with the Patriots or someone else, his message to that team is very simple.
“I have always felt like I've been the underdog my entire life," Amaro said. "I just know that I bring a lot more to the table than what’s seen on TV. I have a big 'want to' and can’t stop. First thing I did after the combine was come home and train that night. That’s just the way I've always been.”
At an athletic 6'5" and 265 pounds, Amaro fits the changing landscape of the new-age NFL tight end. He should hear his name within the first 32 picks of the draft.