FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Give the New York Jets credit for finally recognizing the importance of having a receiving threat at tight end. On Friday night, they used a second-round pick on Jace Amaro, who has modeled his game after Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.
Yes, the position has evolved, and Amaro could be the next new-age tight end.
Or he could be a flop, a product of a Texas Tech system that generates video-game statistics for quarterbacks and pass-catchers. It's one of the most difficult aspects of scouting, looking past the inflated numbers and separating the future stars from the faux prospects. Naturally, the Jets say they got it right, but there are enough questions about Amaro that make you wonder.
Amaro doesn't have top-end speed (a less-than-stellar 4.74 in the 40) and some scouts say he can struggle to separate from defenders. There will be a significant transition period as he attempts to learn a pro-style offense. He acknowledged that Kliff Kingsbury's offense is "easy to understand. The plays are very simple." He said it may take a couple of weeks to learn Marty Mornhinweg's system. A couple of weeks? He doesn't know what he doesn't know.
"Obviously, now in college football with spread offenses, a lot of numbers are put up," said Terry Bradway, the Jets' senior director of college scouting. "But when you look at him, we like the way he runs routes and he catches the ball well. ... Anytime you're evaluating a college player, it's not apples to apples, but we have a pretty good feel for this player, watching him on tape."
At 6-5, 265 pounds, Amaro passes the look test. His 2013 numbers resemble career numbers -- 106 receptions for 1,352 yards, an FBS record for most receiving yards in a season for a tight end. Then again, the water boy could step into the Texas Tech offense and catch passes. In Kingsbury's up-tempo system, in which Amaro was deployed mostly in the slot, the Red Raiders averaged 55 passes per game.
All the Jets can do is trust their eyes and instincts. They believe he can be a big-time tight end, providing a new dimension in their refurbished offense. With Eric Decker on the outside, with Amaro working the middle seams and with Chris Johnson in the backfield, the Jets actually have legitimate balance. Young, athletic tight ends are starting to populate the landscape, changing the way offense is played. Finally, the Jets are hip to the trend.
"Believe me, those guys are hard to defend," coach Rex Ryan said.
Amaro was widely projected as a second-round pick, so it's not like the Jets reached. He was the third tight end off the board, behind Eric Ebron and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. None of them are accomplished blockers; they're basically wide receivers in tight end bodies. Amaro believes he should've been ranked up there with Ebron, who was picked 10th overall.
"Going into the draft ... I always felt like I was the best guy," he said. "I was the most versatile. I had the record for the most receiving yards for a tight end ever. I think that's something that needs to be put into a lot of play. I think we're similar, but he ended up being a top-10 pick and I didn't. The only thing I can do is show them why I should've been there."
The Jets hope he's right.