The Jets made a ton of moves to upgrade their offense this offseason, but the player who can take their offense to unforeseen levels is rookie tight end Jace Amaro.
The second-round pick out of Texas Tech has a lot to prove before he can live up to such a statement, but he oozes potential, given his tremendous combination of size and speed. The fact that he will fill one of the biggest need areas on the team only magnifies the impact he can have as a rookie.
His 6'5", 260-pound frame makes him a perfect fit as a "Joker" tight end who can move all over the formation. Tight ends in this mold are becoming increasingly popular because of the incredible amount of flexibility they give an offense; they also drive defensive coaches who are trying to deploy the proper personnel to play against these players into insanity.
Again, Amaro has a long way to go before he can be associated with players like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, but the Jets can take pages out of the playbook from other teams with these Joker tight ends and use Amaro in an identical fashion.
One of the fastest-growing fads for tight end alignments is to line them up just as if they were wide receivers, especially as they get closer to the end zone.
Splitting a tight end out wide has a distinct personnel advantage near the red zone. Doing so can draw coverage from a cornerback, who is usually massively undersized compared to the tight end. Because the field is shrunken, the tight end's lack of speed is minimized. It could also draw coverage from a linebacker, who is usually unable to run with a tight end in open space.
If he draws a safety, it would tip the defense's hand that it is in some form of man-to-man coverage.
The New Orleans Saints used this formation to score a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals last season. As you can see, the Saints are just inside the red zone and have split Jimmy Graham wide, drawing the coverage of depth safety Anthony Walters.
Because Walters is a safety, Drew Brees can identify that the Cardinals will be playing in man-to-man, which puts Graham in a one-on-one situation with Walters—with predictable results.
Walters is no match for Graham in single coverage. Once the blitz is picked up, Brees simply lofts a jump ball over to Graham in the corner of the end zone for the easy touchdown.
Amaro is not quite as physically dominant as Graham, but he would also have given the offense a favorable situation had he been in place of Graham. The rookie has enough size and ball skills to make teams pay for trying to cover him with one man on an island.
Attached to the Formation
Sometimes, overthinking the situation and being too creative with the use of a player can only bog down an offense. There will be times when it is best to simply line Amaro up in a traditional spot and ask him to outmuscle his defender for the ball.
Here, the Patriots stand up Gronkowski attached to the formation. He will run a simple curl route against a zone defense by the Denver Broncos.
Gronkowski runs right into the zone coverage where there is a linebacker present, but the battle is far from lost. All he has to do is shield his body away from the defender, giving Tom Brady a window to squeeze the ball into.
Brady makes a perfect throw that is only catchable for Gronkowski, who, as he always seems to do, comes up with the touchdown.
This style is more reliant on quality quarterback play than the aforementioned personnel mismatching, but it is just as effective. Like Gronkowski, Amaro is more than capable of using his huge frame to win battles in the red zone against linebackers.
Amaro may not be the caliber of player that Gronkowski is, which means that his success rate in this situation won't be quite as high (especially without Brady throwing to him). Still, he is capable of being used in an identical way when the Jets get into the red zone.
Blocking in the Slot
One of the more underrated ways in which tight ends can be used in unconventional ways is using their size in the blocking game on the perimeter. With just one simple personnel switch, the Jets can replace an undersized slot receiver off the field in favor of a player with a fullback's build.
Amaro is not noted for his inline blocking, which he was rarely asked to show in Texas Tech's spread offense. However, he was an underrated and willing blocker when asked to help out on screens and pitches.
Here, Texas Tech lines up Amaro in the slot to help pave the way for the receiver who is running a swing route. Amaro makes the key block that clears that path for a first down.
These types of advantages don't show up on the stat sheet, but they can be key in turning negative plays into positive ones without asking a young quarterback to make a difficult throw. Adding some unconventional blocking schemes also keeps defenses off balance—they must respect Amaro as a blocker as much as they do a receiver if the Jets vary his usage.
As enticing as it may be to use him early and often, they must be careful not to rush him into such a big role on offense before he is ready. He has a ton of potential, but getting a grasp of the speed and feel of an NFL game takes time, which is something he is learning on his own as he works out the kinks in spring practices.
Rex notes Jace Amaro had 3 drops today. Said guys are thinking so much that they forget the basics: catching the ball— Kimberley A. Martin (@KMart_LI) June 4, 2014
Another challenge will be to incorporate fellow tight end Jeff Cumberland into this mix. Even after using a second-round pick on Amaro, the Jets have every intention of getting a lot out of their fifth-year tight end to whom they just gave an extension.
This responsibility will fall on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. While he did have some quality tight ends during his extended stint with the Eagles, he never had a young duo with the upside that the Amaro-Cumberland combination presents.
Rex on the TEs: "I could see Marty being real creative with this group." #Jets— Dennis Waszak Jr. (@DWAZ73) June 18, 2014
Still, the Jets do not have quite enough firepower at the other offensive skill positions to field the type of offense they expect without Amaro being a significant part of what they do. In combination with his development, using him efficiently by getting the most out of his skill set in favorable matchups will be the key to getting the Jets offense to the next level.