Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro is a quintessential example of the impact the rise of the spread offense in college is having on the pro game. Amaro isn't a tight end, he's just the size of one. The spread system employed at Texas Tech won't use traditional tight ends, instead, bringing in athletic big guys like Amaro to play in the slot. Through that presence, an offense has the ability to attack the seam as well as engage in outside runs with that slot receiver leading or cracking down.
It's a bit tougher to employ a spread system fully in the NFL, but that doesn't mean many of the same concepts can't be used. One of them is the Joker, or the "move tight end."
The Joker is really a tight end that doesn't block in-line. Think of it like an H-back but one that doesn't move inside the tackle box. The move tight end is in the slot, and moves onto the second level of the defense in something of a lead back role.
The Steelers actually used Hines Ward in a similar role toward the end of his career - sending him from the slot to the line, and having him block through the hole.While Jace Amaro is not Hines Ward, he's a very good athlete and the league is incorporating more players with his skill set. He shows why he's being referred to as a "move" blocker on this play. Blocking in space is as much about angles as it is leverage. The Steelers run similar kinds of screens with Heath Miller (a healthy Heath Miller, at least), and Miller simply mauls defensive backs out on the edge. Amaro isn't that kind of blocker, but he can be an effective one as well.
From the snap, he's locked into his target, not trying to sell a pass or anything like that. He's looking to take the defensive back on straight-up.
He probably could stand to get a little lower, but he engages the defender aggressively, getting his hands inside his body and looks to move him.
The defender is strong enough to fight off the block, but Amaro is a smart football player. He's probably getting away with something of a hold, but he knows where he is on the field, and by looking at the runner, he sees an opportunity to get him space outside. He keeps his feet moving, and with that, gets the defender to turn his shoulders outside. Amaro, at that point, doesn't need to overpower him to maintain a successful block. He simply pushes the defender where he wants to go, which gives the running back a lane to the outside. Incidentally, it causes a three-defender pile-up as well, springing the runner for a big gain.
He was a receiver first in Texas Tech's offense, though. No one is disputing that. He's a good one, too. Solid hands, a tough runner after the catch, he looks to be a good slot receiving option at the pro level. One key area of his game is his explosion off the line.
Some have knocked it, instead citing a lack of quality pass defense he faced. That's a fair argument, but he knows how to run a leveraged route. He starts off this play about eight yards from the defensive back. After four steps, he's closed that to four yards. By the time the ball is in the air, he's on top of the defender, giving him no time to react to the throw. Amaro shields him off, goes into the air to make the catch. After all that, it takes two defenders to put him on the ground for about a 27-yard gain that appeared to be the most simply designed play in the history of passing offense.
Same kind of thing on this play, except he just burns the defensive back to the corner, never having given him a chance to contest the throw. Amaro shows a post route initially, veers to more of a seam fly, but breaks to the corner when the defensive back is starting to straighten out. The separation Amaro gets on this player shouldn't be expected at the pro level, but considering he's weighing in around 265 pounds, it's a nice display of athleticism to see him able to turn his body inside out like that and be in a good position to catch the ball. Again, it's just nice and simple with him.
The two issues with any team willing to invest in Amaro with a first or second round pick will be how much of their offense do they want to incorporate with a move tight end, and how high his ceiling is as a blocker. He has some learning to do in that regard (blocks more like a wide receiver than a true tight end), but that's true of basically all rookie tight ends anyway. The key with Amaro is leverage, and his ability to land on what he's aiming for when moving into his blocking assignment.
While it's fair to question how much of a pure spread offense NFL teams will use (which is really where Amaro is most effective), I don't think it's necessarily fair to say he can't block. He does a great job on this play, and he's the lead-blocker. Again, he shows good footwork in stalking the defender, gets his arms inside, and simply leverages the angle, as opposed to mauling the defender. He gets himself between the defender and where he knows the runner will be. A highly effective block, even if it isn't the most dominant one.
He also probably gets away with another hold, but hey, no flag equals no penalty.
Amaro is a nice spot player, and unfortunately, the kind of player drafted late in the first round that makes a good offensive team even better. He has New England Patriots written all over him, based on how they used the currently incarcerated Aaron Hernandez in that Joker role.
At the same time, it takes a certain kind of offense in which for Amaro to fit. This could cause him to fall a bit into the second. The Steelers and offensive coordinator Todd Haley have explored the use of a move tight end in the past, and while David Paulson may not be the best option for it, Amaro could find himself a nice weapon for Ben Roethlisberger to use in no-huddle packages, given his athleticism.