There were reports Jace Amaro was really struggling early in training camp. That is hardly a surprise for a rookie, particularly a tight end. No transition to the NFL is easy, but just think about the tight end position. You have to catch. You have to block. You have to learn routes from an in-line spot, the slot, out wide, and sometimes out of the backfield. This is like learning a bunch of different positions at once. Amaro did not enter the NFL with a vast knowledge of his craft either. In college he was used as a big slot receiver with limited routes.
Amaro ended his rookie year with 38 catches and 345 yards. Those might not sound spectacular, but they aren't bad numbers all things considered. They actually led rookie tight ends by a wide margin. He posted more catches than Jason Witten, Jimmy Graham, and Antonio Gates had as rookies. Witten had 2 more receiving yards than Amaro, Graham 11, and Gates 44.
The Jets kept things simple. They limited the type of routes that featured Amaro. His targets were mainly short. He also lined up in that familiar slot position almost 60% of the time. He ultimately ran 125 less routes than Jeff Cumberland yet posted almost 100 more receiving yards.
Tight end or not, I don't look for a rookie to be great right off the bat. I'll gladly take it in instances like Sheldon Richardson, but it isn't a requirement. Mainly I want a rookie to look like he belongs and every now and then flash something special. I want to see moments here and there that make me think this rookie has the chance to be great if he can put it together like he did on that play. I think Amaro succeeded on that front.
My personal favorite was this touchdown catch during his 10 catch game against Denver.
Amaro did slow down as the year ended. He suffered a concussion against the Bills that caused him to miss two games. He had 4 catches in the 3 weeks after he returned, perhaps a sign of hitting the rookie wall as much as anything.
I remain very optimistic about Amaro's future. He made a contribution this year even as he was learning some of the ins and outs of his position. He'll have an offseason now to train and study knowing the playbook and what it takes to train as a pro. I think Jace has a tremendous amount of talent. He moves extremely well for a guy of his size. Once he gets a head of steam in front of him, he can be very difficult to bring down.
Now that he is more experienced, I look for the Jets to try and expand his role a bit. Stick him in-line and get him against slow linebackers down the field on seam routes. Split him wide against those linebackers who won't like defending on the outside. The more familiar work out of the slot where he can post up and outleap small slot corners for passes will remain part of the mix also.
How good will Amaro actually become? That is unclear. Amaro certainly has the tools to become a matchup problem, the type of guy the Jets can move all over the place to create mismatches and the type a defense has to adjust to try and stop.