The Jets were pressing for Brandon Pettigrew who recently re-signed with the Detroit Lions for $16 million over four years. Although he fills a position of need as a starting tight end, I don’t believe he is a big upgrade over Jeff Cumberland. The Lions use more of a spread offense and the Jets use more of a west coast offense, although they do attempt to use more aggressive downfield passes to open up the underneath short routes. How did the potential Jet stack up to last year’s incumbent Jeff Cumberland in terms of production?
I will use the last two seasons as a measuring stick during which Cumberland and Pettigrew have both been starters. During the 2012 season Pettigrew caught passes for 567 yards on 59 catches and three touchdowns. Cumberland starting in place of injured Dustin Keller caught 29 catches for 359 yards and three touchdowns. Last year with both guys starting Pettigrew declined slightly to 41 catches for 416 yards and two touchdowns. Cumberland improved to 26 catches for 398 yards and four TD’s.
The above are just face numbers, and don’t tell the whole story. However, Pettigrew has never been used as more of a short area possession receiver. In five years, he has only averaged roughly 10 yards per catch, and never caught more than five touchdowns in a season. Considering he’s had Stafford throwing him the ball, and Calvin Johnson as the premier # 1 receiver to eat up double teams, he has not produced well during this time. Cumberland on the other hand, has shown an ability to make yards after the catch as evidenced by his 15.3 yards per catch average against Pettigrew’s 10.1. To state that Pettigrew can be put in a Jets starting lineup and produce numbers he has never produced in yards after catch because he wasn’t used correctly doesn’t make sense to me. I’m happy about this because there is a player that can do the things the Jets want, and now there’s a bigger opportunity to draft him.
The Jets offense and offensive coordinator wanted an upgrade over Cumberland for one big reason: he is not a slot tight end. They tried to move him out wide to create mis-matches, and he never produced in that area. His yards, and yards after catch have come from seem routes where he is lined up in the traditional tight end spot off the tackles shoulder. When he’s had to stand up or go in motion, he hasn’t been able to get open effectively. He can’t create space, or change direction well enough to be used effectively. When you look at the top tight ends including Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, and more recently Jimmy Graham they all do a tremendous amount of damage working in the slot forcing defenses to stretch out or cover them with defensive backs. Graham worked the slot so much he tried to have his franchise designation changed from tight end to wide receiver, and his usage percentage supported that.
The best player in the draft at going in motion, and working the slot as a tight end has been Jace Amaro. Not Eric Ebron, and not Austin Seferian-Jenkins, or Troy Niklas. Amaro is a bigger 6’5″, 265 pound tight end who has been killing teams as a # 1 option for Texas Tech. He worked the slot position and went in motion so much that NFL teams questioned if he can work as a traditional tight end because of his spread offense background. This benefits the Jets because they need a tight end that can go in motion, create mismatches and play out of the slot. Last season Amaro produced 106 receptions, 1,352 yards, and seven TD’s despite teams game planning to stop him. His combine numbers included a respectable 4.7 forty, along 28 reps bench reps and a 33 inch vertical which topped the athletically gifted Ebron.
By being passed over by Pettigrew in free agency, the Jets may have set themselves up for a way better fit in Marty Mornhinweg’s offensive scheme. Amaro can start, play with his hand in the dirt, and split out wide in two tight end sets. New York can use him as a mismatch and primary receiver in much the way New Orleans uses Jimmy Graham as the primary, and let Eric Decker be used as a secondary read which he has been during his time in Denver. Although a lot of people might not agree with Amaro over players like Marquise Lee or Mike Evans, I believe in this offense he would have more opportunities to get targeted and be used than either of them would be. Amaro is currently ranked as a fringe first round prospect, and if Evans is not available (even if he is), I would hope the Jets strongly consider drafting him to be the next big tight end to dominate at the NFL level.