Coming over from the Maryland Terrapins as a one-year rental, Amba Etta-Tawo didn’t carry astronomical evaluations with him when he joined the Syracuse Orange. His experience was limited with the Terps, but we’d take the extra veteran presence in the receiving corps. I said this about him in our wide receivers position preview over the summer:
“Not just a depth add, the Maryland transfer brings a real ability to impact the deep passing game. He caught 61 passes as a Terp, averaging over 15 yards per in sporadic action over there (while also overshadowed by bigger names at receiver). When the depth chart rolls out come September, expect to see his name pretty high. Etta-Tawo will be seeing the field a bunch, even as part of a solid second-string receivers group.”
That was optimistic at the time, and it still failed to even scratch the surface on what he’d become. As you well know already, Etta-Tawo wrapped up the year with 94 catches, 1,492 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns, first-team All-ACC honors and a Senior Bowl invite.
Now he’s looking toward the NFL Draft, to continue his dream of playing pro football.
Syracuse.com’s Stephen Bailey caught up with Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com and CBS Sports to see how Etta-Tawo’s one season wearing Orange affected his draft status. Ends up, it helped quite a bit. Said Brugler:
"Obviously he's made the most of this season. He really went from afterthought to draftable player. This is a guy who didn't have a grade from NFL scouts over the summer. They did not stamp him with a draftable grade. Then he goes to Syracuse this season and he really put himself on the map."
Brugler goes on to list a lot of positives (reference the link above to Bailey’s piece) and talks about Etta-Tawo’s potential as a top-100 guy — meaning he’d be selected in the first three rounds (rounds two and three take place on “day two” of the draft).
He also lists a couple weaknesses/questions, which we can address here:
- Occasional focus drops (these were more prominent at Maryland)
The note about them being more prominent at Maryland probably covers him, but I suppose you could say there were a few at Syracuse. Don’t think that’s the end of the world at all (and given the word “occasional” used above, neither does Brugler).
- Does not consistently force missed tackles or create separation
I’d argue that Etta-Tawo did this for much of the 2015 season. Against UConn, Notre Dame, Boston College and NC State, Amba basically ran the exact same route, created the exact same separation in single-coverage, got around a would-be tackler and then ran it in for a score. “Consistently” is a key word here, so while we could cite the Pitt game as one where he forced a lot of missed tackles, maybe he didn’t do much of it in the other matchups.
That said, he either a) didn’t have to, because he burned the single coverage he was facing or b) was catching screens at the line and the point of the route was only to pick up a handful of yards in a confined space.
- Can he beat press coverage, which he didn't face much of this season?
Again, he actually faced quite a bit of press coverage this year, and seemed to excel... when the offense was running smoothly, that is. Clemson seemed able to jam him, but the offense was a trainwreck in that game. NC State and UConn were far less successful with that tactic, and same goes for Boston College. Those teams (especially UConn) have lauded corners and yet it didn’t matter.
Still, I sort of get how a 12-game sample size can cause issues for scouts if he didn’t really exhibit these skills beforehand. Which brings us to...
- Why was he so productive at Syracuse, but not Maryland?
This is the easiest question to answer: Maryland’s offense was absolute trash during his time there. The Terps’ offensive staff could barely figure out how to use Stefon Diggs and Deon Long properly while they were in College Park, never mind Etta-Tawo, who didn’t possess the same hype as those two. Maryland also had about seven different quarterbacks during his tenure, including a converted linebacker (seriously). No one could’ve been expected to succeed there.
At Syracuse, while Dino Babers was and is still working out the kinks to implementing his offense, there was a real system and players that worked within it. Babers himself said that he’d never seen anyone learn his scheme as fast as Etta-Tawo did, and that’s what elevated him on the depth chart and allowed him to thrive as a starter.
Projections move quite a bit for NFL prospects between the end of the season and draft day. With the Senior Bowl, pro days, NFL Scouting Combine and more, it’s easy to see how Etta-Tawo could elevate himself even further before he hears his name called.