The 2014 NFL draft went roughly as expected for the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Tight end Jace Amaro went in the middle of the second round—no surprise there. Likewise, linebacker Will Smith hearing his name called in the middle of the seventh round was no shock.
Kerry Hyder, Terrence Bullitt and Eric Ward have all signed free agent contracts, which was always a plausible scenario, although it is perhaps mildly surprising that Hyder was not drafted late. He definitely has the ability to stick with the New York Jets, the team that selected Amaro.
Bullitt announced Monday via Twitter that though he passed the Ravens' physical, his shoulder was deemed too much of a risk and they let him go.
Of the two Red Raiders who were taken in the draft, Amaro, for obvious reasons, has the better chance of making an impact early in his career. Indeed, it is entirely possible that he will start practically from the get-go.
Amaro's competition is not particularly formidable. The presumed starter is Jeff Cumberland, a five-year veteran. Originally an undrafted free agent, Cumberland caught a modest 26 passes for 398 yards and four touchdowns last season. Those are the sorts of numbers Amaro put up in four-game stretches with Tech last season, although obviously, he will be facing vastly superior defenses and talent in the NFL.
Outside of Cumberland, the Jets have a collection of young journeymen at the tight end position. Zach Sudfield, an undrafted free agent who caught five passes last season for the Jets; Konrad Reuland, another undrafted free agent who played his college ball at Stanford, and Chris Pantale, yet another undrafted free agent out of Boston College, round out New York's current tight end corps.
None of those players, not even starter Cumberland, are likely to keep Amaro off the field for long. What he does when he steps onto NFL turf will be interesting to see.
Despite the fact that the Jets offense finished next to last in passing yardage last year, New York will put the ball in the air plenty next season. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhingweg, now in his second season with the Jets, runs a version of the West Coast Offense. In this scheme, passes, usually short, horizontal stuff to outside receivers after three-step quarterback drops, are used to set up deeper plays, very often to the tight end. The tight end is also frequently the check-off following a three-progression quarterback read.
What this all means is that, in addition to hauling in some dump-downs, Amaro will be a prime downfield target for Jets quarterbacks. Look for Amaro to make some spectacular plays and to have a high yards-per-catch average in his rookie season.
There is just one hitch. The quarterback throwing the ball to Amaro looks to be Geno Smith, formerly a star with the West Virginia Mountaineers, and a player who struggled severely in his rookie season a year ago. Among the 37 NFL quarterbacks whose stats were computed in 2013, Smith was dead last in passing efficiency, some four points lower than 36th place Terrelle Pryor. If, as seems entirely possible, Smith is again unable to do the job, Michael Vick, perhaps the best running quarterback in the NFL, will get the call. Either way, quarterback inefficiency could hamper Amaro's development.
Will Smith will get his shot with the Dallas Cowboys, and it is entirely possible that he will make the active roster. The Cowboys will look at Smith at both strong-side and weak-side linebacker.
The competition is less daunting at the latter where the excellent young prospect Bruce Carter is the starter, but current backups are Caesar Rayford—who, at 6-foot-7 and 265 will also see time at defensive end—and former undrafted free agent Jonathan Stewart, a Texas A&M Aggie who almost signed with Tech several years ago.
Smith's speed, physicality at the point of attack, and ability to absorb schemes quickly, mean that he could emerge as Carter's primary backup sometime next season.
If the Cowboys slot Smith at strong-side, those ahead of him will be Justin Durant and Devonte Holloman, who are expected to battle for the starting berth; Cameron Lawrence and Quinton Spears. Both Lawrence and Spears were undrafted free agents. Lawrence is a good special teams player who also saw action at linebacker during the last three weeks of the 2013 season. Bottom line, strong-side linebacker is a crowded position in Dallas.
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