Darren Page, DLD Lead Scout
The Texas Tech Red Raiders appear to be on the verge of a new era. Tommy Tuberville skipping town for the brisk climate of Cincinnati, Ohio may be the best thing that’s ever happened to them. The former Red Raider quarterback-turned-offensive guru turned head coach Kliff Kingsbury has lit a spark in a stale football program and has them ranked in the top ten of the AP poll for the first time since the days of Mike Leach.
Kingsbury isn’t the only driving force behind the 7-0 Red Raiders though. There’s another reason that two freshman quarterbacks have seamlessly guided the offense to the tune of 41 points per game. That reason is Jace Amaro, a tight end with the body of a power forward and the grace of a deer. Amaro has racked up over 700 yards on 53 receptions, sparking the offense with big plays down the field and keeping it on the field by being a reliable target over the middle.
Let’s take a look at the ways Jace Amaro can cause mismatch problems as well as how NFL teams are using tight ends in ways that are conducive to his skillset when he makes the jump to the next level.
This play is an example of one way defensive coordinators will try and match up with a tight end like Amaro. Iowa State is playing man free, meaning man coverage across the board with a free safety ranging over the top. The Cyclones have safety Jacques Washington matched up with Amaro in the slot. Washington isn’t a diminutive defensive back at 6’1” 220, but he’s still going to have trouble with Amaro’s 6’5” 260 lb. frame.
Not only is Amaro massive, but he’s incredibly smooth as a route runner. He works to the inside and back out with great balance and acceleration on this route. You can see the safety take a step to the inside and when Amaro breaks back to the outside, he’s never going to make the play. Amaro uses his hands to clear himself as he goes past the safety. Despite Washington’s blatant grab of Amaro’s jersey, the tight end plucks the ball out of the air and isn’t dragged down until he picks up 40 yards.
It’s one of many examples available that display Amaro’s ability to win over the top. His size and movement ability make him a tough task for any defender in man coverage. If there’s one tight end playing on Sundays who is the epitome of a mismatch problem for every defense, it’s Jimmy Graham.
The first thing the Saints do on this play is use shifts to diagnose coverage and get Jimmy Graham isolated on the outside with a mismatched defender. Lance Moore motions across the formation to the near side and Tampa Bay cornerback Johnthan Banks follows. When Graham motions to the outside, safety Ahmad Black rolls over the top of the tight end. Black might push 5’9” with inserts in his shoes. This is stealing candy from a baby.
The Buccaneers have all but shown their hands to Drew Brees, at least as far as Jimmy Graham is concerned. He has Black isolated in man coverage on the perimeter and knows that’s what he wants as soon as he receives the snap.
Graham gives a slight jab and head nod to the inside before breaking back to the sideline. Hook, line, and sinker. Ahmad Black gets toasted by a crisp route and it’s an easy pitch and catch for Drew Brees. Don’t undersell the sharpness with which Jimmy Graham runs hits routes just because he is so physically superior.
The precision in route running will come along as Amaro progresses, especially once he gets into an NFL system and develops his route tree. But as soon as he sets foot on an NFL field, he’ll be able to make use of his natural ability when he gets defenders freed up in space. Hopefully he ends up in the hands of an offensive coordinator who will move him around to create mismatches and pick apart defenses.
Another part of Amaro’s game that stands out is an instinctive ability to find space in the middle of the field and simply get open.
With West Virginia playing with two deep safeties, Amaro will try to find in front of them down the middle of the field. The weak spot in the coverage is behind the linebackers, which is where he needs to get to.
As Amaro breaks to the middle of the field, he find the inside linebacker had dropped right into his path. Without hesitation, he plants and drives farther up the field.
As he does so well, Amaro fights off contact with his hands. The ball is out of Davis Webb’s hand as soon as Amaro clears and he catches in the ball in the sweet spot of the defense. That’s when Amaro does something with the ball in his hands that few tight ends are capable of. It’s best to check the play out for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOUlEbETYMA#t=119m (1:59:00).
His ability to maneuver in tight spaces to find space in the middle of the field is make his transition to NFL offenses that much easier. When you factor in his potential to pick up big yardage after the catch, you’re looking at a truly dynamic tight end.
The best tight end in the NFL in terms of reading coverage and getting himself open for his quarterback is undoubtedly Jason Witten.
From the slot, Witten appears to be running a post route to the middle of the field. The Giants will drop into a two deep safety look, which mean the middle of the field is where the Cowboys can look to attack with a tight end of Witten’s quality. There’s a reason his route looks nothing like a post.
As he releases, Giants linebacker Keith Rivers obstructs his route. He releases to the inside before breaking back to the intermediate middle. This is an important distinction. If he releases to the outside of Rivers, the back may run with him in man coverage or he could release right into the safety’s zone. Instead, Witten runs right into the congestion. That’s where he thrives after all.
Once he clears the linebackers, Witten instinctively turns around and makes himself available for Tony Romo. If he tries to carry his route downfield instead, he would be running with his back to his quarterback and heading straight for the safeties. It is Witten’s ability to find open space and settle into it that makes him such a reliable outlet for Romo and makes him one of the league’s best tight ends.
These fine skills of route running can turn an athletic tight end into a perennial pro bowler. That Jace Amaro has already shown flashes of these skills without NFL coaching says a lot about where his future is headed.
Amaro is truly a dynamic pass-catching target and far from a one-trick pony. His immense size and significant athleticism make him a mismatch nightmare for defenses. On top of that, he’s an instinctive route runner who operates well in the middle of the field in the mold of more traditional tight ends. The list of things Jace Amaro can’t do is dwindling quickly. He has gotten more snaps in-line this season for the Red Raiders and has shown the blocking technique to handle the duties that come along with that. His run blocking may take time, but with his size and strength, it’s not a big concern as it relates to what he brings as a tight end prospect. The things he’s able to do in the passing game are just too good to pass up on. Amaro indicated through twitter his plans to return to Lubbock for his senior season, but he’s going to have a few million reasons to reconsider when the NFL’s Draft Advisory Board gets back to him.
Video and screenshots courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com, check out all of Jace Amaro’s videos here: http://draftbreakdown.com/players/jace-amaro/