The New York Jets enter tonight’s game ranked 30th in both points scored and yards gained, and have just one win in their first six contests. There is at least one silver lining in East Rutherford, however: the play of rookie second-rounder Jace Amaro. He might just be the most dangerous weapon the Jets have against the Patriots.
Amaro had a breakout game Week 6 against Denver, notching 10 catches for 68 yards and his first career score. Despite just 29 targets on the season, the 22-year-old leads New York in catches with 24, and is second with 212 yards. Given the Patriots’ struggles against tight ends this year (24th of 32 teams according to Football Outsiders), Amaro figures to factor heavily into offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s game plan.
At 6’5”, 265 pounds, Amaro has good size, but he was used less as a conventional tight end and more as a big receiver at Texas Tech, lining up in the slot almost 90% of the time. The Jets have continued this trend, playing Amaro in the slot more than 60% of the time (6th-most among tight ends). The rookie is athletic enough to give linebackers headaches, and his height and bulk make him a mismatch when paired against defensive backs. Amaro knows how to use his length and will extend to make difficult catches, as this catch from the first quarter of the Jets’ tilt with Denver demonstrates:
Two plays later, the Jets lined up Amaro at wide receiver and he again took advantage of his size, out-leaping veteran safety T.J. Ward to grab his first career touchdown:
The tight end still has some rough edges that need smoothing out. Despite his size, Amaro is not a strong blocker, which has kept him off the field (he’s only blocked on 45 of his 152 snaps). While he’s shown the ability to make the tough catch, he’s dropped two balls already on the season. He was slow to pick up the playbook over the summer. He also has a lingering knee injury he sustained in the preseason, likely another factor in playing less than 40% of offensive snaps to date.
Despite his flaws, Amaro has made an impact in his limited playing time. That figures to continue Thursday night against an injury-depleted Patriots linebacking corps. The Jets’ best route to offensive success could be to increase Amaro’s role in the offense and feed the young tight end early and often. If New England tries to cover Amaro with a linebacker, the Jets can feature him on seam routes and crosses that take advantage of his speed to get separation. If a safety lines up on him, the Jets can isolate him on routes where he can use his size, as in the touchdown catch above. Zone coverage can leave the Patriots susceptible to play action, and a bracket or double-team will open holes elsewhere. Amaro is a matchup problem for New England, and could be the key to an upset by the Gang Green.