This game is personal for Jace Amaro.
While the Jets' rookie tight end is thankful he found his way to Florham Park, he made it clear in May that he shouldn't have fallen to the second round of the NFL draft. And on Sunday, he'll have the chance to prove he deserved to be the first tight end off the board against the team that snubbed him: the Detroit Lions.
"I don't want to say there's like a personal vendetta or anything like that," he said with a laugh. "But it's just something that was just motivating me through working out, through training. 'Cause I knew I probably wasn't going to be the first guy picked -- as a tight end.'
Despite Amaro's record-breaking production at Texas Tech, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron garnered much of the predraft attention. And it didn't take long for Ebron -- the 10th overall pick -- to hear his name called. Amaro was selected 49th by the Jets the following day, and he made it clear on May 10 that he "was the best guy" and "the most versatile" of the tight-end class.
He stood by his claim during a quiet moment in the locker room on Thursday.
"I'm never going to come back and take back words that I said," Amaro told Newsday, highlighting his college statistics, despite having a "new coach and a freshman walk-on quarterback during his time at Texas Tech.
"I definitely didn't feel like people took notice of that. I ended up being drafted with the 49th pick, for whatever reason. But yeah, it's always going to be motivational, it's always going to be fire. You're in this thing to prove people wrong. I feel like I've always been like that."
He leads all rookie tight ends with six catches for 67 yards, including a 43-yard catch in Monday night's loss to the Bears. Meanwhile, Ebron has been the Lions' third tight-end option behind starter Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria, recording three catches for 38 yards (all in a Week 2 loss to Carolina).
But Ebron, who has played about a third of the offensive snaps, is expected to have an increased role against the Jets after Fauria injured his ankle -- "in a freak fall," he tweeted -- at home this week.
Amaro, the Jets' backup tight end behind Jeff Cumberland, has played about 30 percent of the snaps in each of the first three games.
The 6-5, 265-pound Amaro acknowledged he still has to improve his blocking and receiving skills. But he has no doubt he still is the top talent of this year's tight-end class. Amaro, the first Texas Tech tight end drafted in 44 years, set an NCAA single-season record at his position with 1,352 receiving yards on 106 catches. He finished his college career with 138 receptions for 1,818 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Along the way, the kid from Plano, Texas, grew accustomed to proving people wrong. Many believed Amaro was snubbed for the John Mackey award, presented to the top tight end in college football, in 2013. And heading into this year's draft, he had a feeling he'd be snubbed again.
"Just because people said I was a product of my system, I wasn't as good of an athlete as some of the other guys," said Amaro, who set an FBS receiving-yards record in 2013, primarily as a slot receiver in the Red Raiders' pass-heavy Air Raid offense. "But there's a lot of other things you can't really measure at combines."
He's determined to prove that to the Lions.
"It's definitely motivation and I'm glad we're playing them this week. And I'm glad I'm coming off a pretty good game," he said, referring to his three catches for 54 yards against Chicago. He did, however, acknowledge that he should have caught Geno Smith's third-down pass with the Jets trailing 24-13 in the third quarter.
"That was really the only mental error I had the entire game," Amaro said. "But you learn from it. You're never going to play perfect. The great ones drop balls and I've seen plenty of players make mistakes, too. And you just have to keep going."