10 players caught more passes for the New York Jets than Jeff Cumberland did last season. Cumberland finished the year with five receptions for 77 yards in 15 games and six starts, leading all Jets tight ends in receptions. Cumberland now plays for the San Diego Chargers. The Jets didn't draft a tight end or sign one of significance. Based on those facts alone, you'd be forgiven for thinking that offensive coordinator Chan Gailey wasn't a tight end enthusiast. That would be a mistake though.
One of the 10 players to catch more passes than Cumberland was Quincy Enunwa. Enunwa caught 22 passes for 315 yards in 12 games last year. Modest numbers that made him a fringe option for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Enunwa's work was still significant because he is a converted tight end playing receiver in Gailey's system. While Gailey doesn't rely on traditional tight ends all that much, he does make use of tight ends with receiver skill sets who can move around the field. Enunwa, a former sixth-round pick who spent most of the previous season on the practice squad and was suspended to start the 2015 season, became that guy because of Jace Amaro's absence. Had Amaro been available, you could be certain that seven wide receivers and three running backs wouldn't have outproduced the team's leading tight end.
Amaro was the 49th pick in the 2014 draft. He caught 38 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns during his rookie season on a bad offense while dealing with health issues over the second half of the year. Transitioning to the NFL as a receiving tight end can be tough. Amaro's rookie year provided enough reasons to be optimistic about his potential moving forward even if it wasn't a spectacular season. More importantly, Amaro has a skill set that should appeal to Gailey.
When Gailey was a coach in Buffalo, one of his primary weapons was Scott Chandler. Gailey was the Bills head coach from 2010 to 2012. After making his NFL debut in 2007, Chandler broke out in Gailey's offense during the 2011 season. He caught 38 passes in 14 games for 389 yards and six touchdowns. His role continued to grow into the following season when he established himself as the Bills' starting tight end. Chandler was officially listed as a tight end but he was essentially asked to be an over-sized receiver. That is how Amaro's skill set should be used in the NFL.
The first thing that must be acknowledged with Amaro is that he had a significant number of really ugly plays during his rookie year. He repeatedly droppped the ball when he was wide open downfield. It appears to be completely a focus issue because his technique is good and he doesn't struggle to make adjustments against tight coverage. Since his competition for snaps behind Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall is limited, those negative plays shouldn't be a concern.
What stands out most about Amaro is his sheer size. He is officially listed at 6'5" and 265 lbs. Amaro carries very little negative weight, boasting a lean athletic frame that allows him to move fluidly with balance. For his size, Amaro also possesses an impressive burst of acceleration and the quickness to run good routes. In the above play against the Miami Dolphins, Amaro releases into the defensive back after directing the stem of his route towards the defender's inside shoulder. From here he can use his size and strength to bump the defender while he turns infield to create separation infield.
Amaro has easily beaten the coverage because he understood how to use his size advantage. He doesn't make a defender miss or show off a great burst of acceleration, but he is comfortable turning upfield to extend the margin gained.
From the same game, Amaro got an opportunity to show off his YAC ability. The above gif shows how he comfortably catches the pass from Geno Smith in the flat before running right through Reshad Jones. Jones is one of the better safeties in the NFL but few defensive backs (if any) will be able to go high on Amaro and expect to take him to the ground. He shows off violence at the end of his runs to maximize the momentum built by his bulk and acceleration.
The above play should be typical of the type of play that Gailey will ask Amaro to make.
Gailey's offense requires taking shots downfield, but it primarily focuses on allowing the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly. To do that, you need receivers who can create YAC in space, showing off athleticism and comfort with the ball in their hands. Many of these throws will go to Matt Forte and Bilal Powell on screens or designed throws that are designed for the running back regardless of what the defense does. Amaro should get the majority of the other targets that don't go to Marshall or Decker. He should even pull targets away from the team's top two receivers to balance the passing game a bit more.
The previous coaching staff tried to use Amaro on screen plays but he was more effective running routes underneath so he was already in space when he got the ball.
In both of the above gifs Amaro shows off the fluidity and acceleration of a wide receiver to easily gain a pair of first downs. If it weren't for his obvious size, you wouldn't think that he was a tight end by the way he moves.
This athleticism makes him a scheme-breaking matchup problem for defenses also.
The Jets have Marshall, and Decker to a lesser extent, to rely on when they look to throw fade routes at the goal line. Amaro offers them another option against teams who have more talented cornerbacks than safeties or linebackers. In the above play, he goes up against T.J. Ward of the Denver Broncos. Ward is one of the most physical strong safeties in the NFL, someone who shouldn't be so easily bullied off his spot the way Amaro does on this play.
Likely because he was a rookie and because of the overall structure of their offense, the previous coaching staff didn't use Amaro in these situations. His only other touchdown reception that season came when he ran down the seam from a bunch against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Being a goal-line threat is obviously very valuable for the purposes of fantasy football but you need to show consistency out the field and have a well-rounded skill set to provide real value when in a fringe role on your team's offense. Ward couldn't stay tight to his body in his own endzone where the space is naturally tightened, so it was no surprise that linebackers, safeties and slot cornerbacks regularly struggled to stick with Amaro further afield also.
One of the benefits of playing with Brandon Marshall is that he will draw coverage. Nobody wants to leave Marshall in a one-on-one situation if they can avoid it so even though double teams are rare, safeties will cheat to his side of the field. That should leave players such as Amaro and Devin Smith, if he's healthy, alone on the backside of plays in space with only one defender to beat. The play highlighted in the above gif is a promising one in the context of what Amaro's role projects to be.
Amaro is the boundary receiver lining up against one of the New England Patriots' lesser cornerbacks. He overwhelms the defensive back with his sheer size to release into his route before shielding the accurate pass from Geno Smith for the reception.
On this play, the Broncos ask their linebacker and the Jets wide receiver's namesake Brandon Marshall to cover Amaro one-on-one. Marshall is a good coverage linebacker. He's smart and shifts his weight naturally to track tight ends through breaks. Amaro runs a good stem again here before timing his plant foot perfectly to set Marshall up and escape past his inside shoulder. Marshall was recovering from the moment that Amaro planted his foot.
There are real reasons to be concerned about Amaro. His hands simply have to improve if he's going to sustain long-term success and the short-term situation is problematic because the quality and quantity of his targets will be low.
Yet, the young tight end is an appealing player to target late in drafts. He won't cost you anything more than a 19th or 20th-round pick in an MFL league and is likely an after-thought for most fantasy owners. The tight end position is lacking in high upside options late in the draft. You're primary options are rookies, Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper come to mind. They will be slightly more expensive than Amaro and come with just as many question marks. At 24 years old Amaro has the physical talent and the time to develop into one of the better tight ends in the NFL. His torn labrum shouldn't have lingering effects on his ability either.