Replacing Jace Amaro isn't really all that realistic in the literal sense. Amaro was a one-of-a-kind sort of athlete that rolls through most college programs once every decade. He really is that talented and it would be unfair for there to be any comparisons.
I'd also add that you don't just try to replace Amaro by recruiting some freshman tight end because that's not realistic either. I think the coaching staff plays this about as well as you could expect in that you don't just go out and find guys like Amaro. If anything, I think you have to pick and choose your spots and you make offers to the guys that are comparable, but you can't wait on someone like Amaro to crop up again. If anything, you can sell the type of production that is capable of this offense by a guy that's a more traditional tight end and how you can highlight those sorts of traits in this offense.
As to the question at hand, I think I feel pretty danged comfortable as to how the coaching staff is thinking that they want to replace Amaro and they immediately identified Bradley Marquez.
Bradley Marquez: It was towards the end of the year that we found out that Bradley Marquez was flipping between inside receiver and outside receiver. In fact, it was Bradley Marquez that started over Jakeem Grant against Texas as Grant was sitting to get his head right with ball. That was a prelude to the spring where we learned that Marquez would be flipping inside and most likely pairing with Jakeem Grant as the two starting inside receivers.
I'm incredibly comfortable with Marquez inside and I think this might suit him better, especially considering the overall talent that I think was pushing him a bit outside. If there isn't a player that steps up on the outside, then he can flip back, but Marquez on the inside makes sense to me. A former running back, this seems like it would be easier to transition and Marquez is already adept at operating in traffic. I'd also add that I think Marquez's vision as a running back will make life easier. Marquez had some real rough spots as an outside receiver, I think maybe getting real separation, but inside, he won't need to do that. I could certainly see Marquez improving on the 49 catches for 633 yards and 6 touchdown. The yards per catch will most likely decrease, from 12.2, but I think that's a pretty fair trade.
Jakeem Grant: With Grant, I think he's pretty much a finished project. Teams tend to stay away from guys like Grant because he's too small to play outside, but has the speed to play inside. You have to have a coach that's willing to create space for a guy like Grant, almost find plays for him within the given game and make sure that he touches the ball. It's not all that easy to trust a guy that is 5'6", but Grant's explosiveness helps him make plays that you normally wouldn't see from an inside receiver. That's exactly what you saw in the Holiday Bowl. I think 65 catches for 796 yards and 7 touchdowns seems about right. I think that you can over-expose a guy like Grant and you do have to take his size into consideration, even though he'd probably never admit that the pounding that he takes is heightened due to his size.
Dylan Cantrell: Like a lot of you, I'm expecting really big things from Cantrell. I think long-term, Cantrell is the type of player that is going to morph into a Jay Novacek sort of player, a hybrid receiver and/or tight end and we'll argue about what he supposed to be rather than what he is, which is that he should be just a really good football player (same thing goes for Jakari Dillard, I think he'll have a similar path to Cantrell and will eventually be inside). The thing with Cantrell is that he probably doesn't have the frame to be a traditional tight end, but he's also not the prototypical wide receiver. Again, I think with how the coaches are moving players around, what we really have is an emphasis on speed on the outside receivers and that's not what Cantrell is (again, not saying he's fast). That's the distinction, which is that a guy like Grant obviously has top-end speed, but not the height to beat cornerbacks one-on-one.
In any event, I think what we're looking at with Cantrell is that he physically tops out at a 6'3" and 225 receiver that will be a match-up nightmare in a similar sense that Amaro was. Long-term, I think I can envision Cantrell having similar production as Amaro as a senior because I think Cantrell has better hands and Amaro is still figuring things out physically (I think there are times where Amaro is just a bit awkward physically and is still growing into what he will eventually be). For 2014, I think Marquez and Cantrell are really going to split the reps and deservedly so as I think they both offer different qualities to the receiver spot. Between the two of them, I could envision 90 to 100 catches with a touchdown edge to Cantrell and a yardage advantage to Marquez.
As an aside, this was written before Cantrell moved back to the outside receiver spot. If anything, this is what the spring is for, which is figuring out what you have and where the players will fit. I think Cantrell is going to be pretty good no matter where he plays.
Jordan Davis: The difference between Davis and any of the other candidates is that with the rest of them, they all offer the ability to create, at different times, match-up problems. I'm guessing that Davis doesn't have Grant's explosiveness, Marquez's elusiveness, and Cantrell's overall athletic ability. That's not to say that Davis doesn't have a role with this team, because he does, but I don't foresee any sort of breakout type of production from Davis. I was a bit surprised to see that Davis had 28 catches for 243 yards and I think I could see similar production this year. With Davis playing behind Grant, I can't envision taking Davis out in the same manner that Marquez and Cantrell will share the receiver spot because I like Grant's ability that much more.
Don't count on freshmen. Just don't. It's not realistic and it's way too much to ask of a freshman receiver. It's tough, perhaps the toughest job in college football, which is for a receiver to come in and make an instant impact. I love Ian Sadler, Cameron Batson and all of those other guys, but it would be rare for a true freshman to supplant any of those returners. And even if the returners failed a bit (I don't think they will) then I think they'll look to the other guys on the roster, not the true freshmen. I mentioned this in the comments when we talked about the wide receivers and Dylan Cantrell and D.J. Polite-Bray had 11 catches combined. It's not a slight against them, just a reality. Contributing as a true freshman receiver on a meaningful level is really tough.
Because I think that we're essentially looking at the depth here, this is it. I don't think that Grant's going to fall off much, if at all and Marquez is going to bounce back and Cantrell will be a pretty big factor moving forward.