Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jace Amaro and ranking the 2014 Big 12 tight ends

Over at Football Study Hall we're talking about how Jace Amaro has changed the landscape in the Big 12 and encouraged teams to utilize bigger bodies in the passing game more.

I have to acknowledge that David Bailiff has been doing this at Rice and putting TE's in the NFL for a few years now while utilizing them in spread sets. Brian Kelly and Notre Dame have also been at the forefront of utilizing the "Flex TE" position.

Aaron Hernandez with Urban Meyer and then Bill Belichek had a lot to do with this as well. Of course, Kansas State has not stopped using tight ends while everyone else in the Big 12 has gone spread happy.

Still, credit to Kliff Kingsbury for making the most out of Jace Amaro in this role and making it clear to every B12 team what they are missing if they don't incorporate big guys in spread sets. It was obvious that tight ends are valuable, OU obliterated people in 2008 with Jermaine Gresham after all, but this is one of the first times we'd seen how a non-blueblooded Air Raid team could unleash such a player.

Coach Grabowksi recently wrote a piece about using tight ends to the field and receivers to the boundary to create stress on a defense. Good extra reading on how teams can still use spacing and spread tactics while putting tight ends on the field.

Ultimately the biggest takeaway is this: defenses respond to being spread out by putting more speed on the field. If the spread out players are big bodies who can be physical blockers then the major response from a DC is nullified. You still need players with speed and range but now they'd better be pretty strong and physical as well.

If a running back loves making cuts behind the block of a fullback how much more does a Percy Harvin-type slot receiver love to make cuts on a screen pass behind a lead blocker on the perimeter?

With that in mind, here's a stab at ranking the 10 best tight ends in the B12 for 2014:

1. EJ Bibbs, 6-3, 261. Iowa State

I discussed Bibbs in depth in the Football Study Hall article. He's the most versatile and proven player at this position in the B12.

2. Blake Bell, 6-6, 255. Oklahoma

I'm just going to go out on a limb, believe rumors I've heard, and say that his size, athleticism, and alleged comfort running routes and catching balls is going to make him a match-up nightmare.

3. Zach Trujillo: 6-5, 256. Kansas State

KSU has big plans for Trujillo in their shallow cross and POP run/pass concepts. He's a solid receiver and blocker which means he's lethal in his sum impact.

4. Tre'Von Armstead, 6-6, 270. Baylor

If Armstead proves to have Austin Sefarian-Jenkins fluidity and hands, he'll shoot up this list. Simply for his value in making Baylor's pass protection and run-blocking intensely good, he finished 3rd.

5. Geoff Swaim, 6-4, 252. Texas

Swaim is one of the best blockers in the conference, perhaps even rivaling the massive Armstead. He's proficient as a lead-blocker out of the backfield or in-line. He has a chance to shoot up this list with a strong season as a receiver, we haven't seen him flexed out in space yet.

6. Jimmay Mundine: 6-2, 240. Kansas

Mundine will have every opportunity to have an impact in the new Kansas spread offense. If he can just catch a ball on a stop route and provide lead-blocking for Tony Pierson on the perimeter he'll have a big impact this season. Big guys are valuable in a game that's about the physical imposition of will.

7. Jimmy Seaton, 6-2, 250. Oklahoma State

It's likely that OSU will replace Seaton's hybrid H-back/TE snaps with the WR/RB hybrid Tyreek Hill, but there's still an opportunity for Seaton to have a big role as a lead blocker in the Cowboys' multiple option concepts. He's essentially a poor man's Geoff Swaim.

8. Cody Clay, 6-4, 251. West Virginia

Clay has a very similar role to Seaton in West Virginia's spread-option attack. Holgorsen would rather the ball go to someone explosive than someone plodding, but he will put people like Clay on the field at times in order to help escort the explosive guys to the end zone. He may see most of his snaps playing in the Diamond formation.

9. Griffin Gilbert, 6-5, 220. TCU

Gilbert had earned a role as a TE in the TCU offense in 2013 before getting injured and missing most of the season. In their new spread system he could mimic what he did in high school with his championship teams at Lake Travis; providing a huge target on fade routes and a big blocker in the screen game. It's not clear that he'll have a real role in 2014, however.

10. 2nd string TE for OU/Texas

 There are several players from OU and UT that are likely to emerge over the course of 2014 who may end up much higher on this list and play lots of snaps. Some potential names include MJ McFarland, Blake Whiteley, and Dominique Jones at Texas and Taylor McNamara or Isaac Ijalana at OU.

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