Amba Etta-Tawo came to the United States as a young boy because his parents, living in Oman, won a visa lottery to come here. Have the New York Giants won the lottery with Etta-Tawo, who joined their practice squad at the end of last season and was signed to a reserve/futures contract?
It is far too early to think that Etta-Tawo, an undrafted free agent who split last season on a trio of practice squads, could become the Giants next Victor Cruz. Fans, and some in the media, have made that mistake in recent years with Marcus “Soup” Harris, Corey Washington and even last season with the popular Travis Rudolph.
Still, Etta-Tawo has gotten everyone’s attention.
The 6-foot-1, 208-pounder, who starred at Syracuse in 2016, was good enough in the spring that by mandatory mini-camp he was getting a handful of first-team reps.
“I grew up watching Eli, so that’s definitely a blessing by itself. To get the first-team reps I kinda try to tune that out for now, just keep on goin,’ keep on goin,’ keep on chuggin’ at it. Hopefully at the end of things everything will work out,” Etta-Tawo said Friday before the Giants took the field for their second practice of training camp.
The 24-year-old’s impressive play continued during the first two practices of training camp.
Thursday, Etta-Tawo caught several passes. One of those was a deep ball from Manning. On Friday, Etta-Tawo made an impressive catch on a pass from Davis Webb, stretching to snare a ball out of the air with Chris Lewis-Harris trying to cover him.
“I feel good to this point, but definitely a lot of work to be done,” Etta-Tawo told me. “There’s definitely a lot more to show, a lot more opportunities coming up. We just started camp yesterday with all the vets, so definitely a lot more opportunities out there to show what I’ve been working on.”
More football later. For now, back to that lottery.
Etta-Tawo comes from what might be described as a worldly family. He calls them “well-traveled.”
The family’s roots are in Nigeria. His two other brothers were born in Leeds, England. He and his younger brother were born in Muscat, Oman. In case you don’t know, that is an Arab nation of 4.425 million people on the Arabian Peninsula.
Etta-Tawo told me that his father won the visa lottery in 1998, allowing the family to enter the U.S. and obtain legal permanent residency. Other stories you may find about Etta-Tawo and his family indicate the year could actually have been 1999.
Either way, Etta-Tawo knows the family was lucky to get the opportunity to come to America.
“I’m not even sure what it [the visa lottery] is exactly, but my mother told me about it. That’s how we came over here,” he said. “My father put in a bid, we won and we made it over.”
In the U.S., the family settled in Georgia. Etta-Tawo’s oldest brother, Etta Etta-Tawo, played briefly at Clemson before a heart condition ended his career.
Amba fell in love with Maryland while his brother was at Clemson, and when colleges came calling asking him to play football for them he chose the Terrapins.
“I watched Maryland beat up on Clemson back then and I fell in love with the whole swag,” he said.
Etta-Tawo showed game-breaking potential with Maryland in 2013, catching 31 passes for 500 yards (16.1 yards per catch) with 2 touchdowns. His next two seasons with the Terrapins were disappointing, though, as he totaled only 30 catches and 1 touchdown over those two years.
Having graduated from Maryland in 2015 with a degree in geographical studies, and with a year of college eligibility left, Etta-Tawo chose to transfer to Syracuse to play out that final season.
He exploded on the national scene with the Orange, catching 94 passes for 1,485 yards, averaging 15.8 yards per catch and 123.5 yards receiving per game. He scored 14 touchdowns and had 7 100+ yard receiving games.
What was the difference?
“It kinda came from within,” Etta-Tawo said. “I feel like the skill has been there but it came from the confidence within, knowing I can make the play. I got in a type of a zone when I went to Syracuse and I never looked back from there.”
Looking back, he seems to blame himself for never finding that zone while he was at Maryland.
“I’ve got a lot of love for Maryland, but I learn from my mistakes. If I didn’t go there and go through what I went through I might not have been able to learn from that. I use that as a stepping stone and try to hurdle over it,” Etta-Tawo said.
“It’s just the mindset, how you are going to approach the game, how you are going to take care of your body, it’s small things like that. It’s just going into practice with a mindset that I’m going to get better today. Not trying to make it through it, actually working through it. Going to improve on something rather than just surviving.”
Etta-Tawo credits the coaching staff at Syracuse, led by head coach Dino Babers, because “they treated me like a pro from Day 1.”
Now, the question is can Etta-Tawo actually be one? He spent time last season on the practice squads of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs before landing with the Giants in the closing days of the season.
Etta-Tawo is a guy who can run fast (4.49 40-yard dash) and jump high (a 126-inch broad jump that puts him in the 83rd percentile among players tested at the NFL Combine). The question has always been could he develop the other skills needed to play at the NFL level.
NFL.com had this to say in 2016 pre-draft scouting report:
While he’s obviously still raw, the tape shows an improving talent with an ability to challenge over the top and uncover underneath. Unfortunately for Etta-Tawo, he was wildly inconsistent and his hands were exposed as a flawed part of his game once again. He’s a vertical receiver who has the potential to become more than that with additional work,
Pro Football Focus said:
Etta-Tawo shot out of nowhere this season to become one of the most productive receivers in college football. But taking a closer look at his tape shows there’s a bit more to the story. Etta-Tawo has some skills, such as his quick release and good hands downfield which make him a viable deep threat. But his game lacks refinement and his lack of route running will be a concern for NFL teams.
Etta-Tawo showed on Thursday that he is still a vertical receiver. Yet, there was one play that shows that some of that needed refinement may have been acquired.
Lined up wide left with Manning at quarterback and Teddy Williams lined up in what looked like it was going to be man-on-man press coverage. Etta-Tawo assessed the situation and capitalized, beating Williams with a stutter-step at the line of scrimmage and blowing past him for an easy deep completion.
“I noticed that there was one safety in the middle of the field, so I knew there was kind of a one-on-one opportunity,” Etta-Tawo said. “I just tried to be patient at the line, make sure I worked my move and didn’t rush it. Just take my time with the release and I knew I’d be open. I just tried to turn the jets on after I got him to set his feet a little bit.”
There is lots of competition for roster spots at wide receiver. Etta-Tawo isn’t playing the numbers game, the “how many receivers will the Giants keep and who is my competition?” game. He has made that mistake before.
“Last year the answer to that would be “yes.’ [he would be doing the roster math]. This year I kind of trained myself to take every day at a time, every rep at a time,” he said. “At the end you can look back and see what you did but for now it’s long lines, it’s a long roster, the reality is not everybody’s going to be here at the end of it but my thing is to just keep on doing the best I can.”
If he keeps having good reps and good days, Etta-Tawo might just find himself still standing in that line when the season opens.