If Danny Amendola wasn't injured so often, he'd arguably be the best player at his position.
A slot receiver for the St. Louis Rams, he has finished a full season only once through his four-year career. That was in 2010 when he recorded 85 receptions for 689 yards and three touchdowns. This past season, he had 63 receptions for 666 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games.
One could argue that 2012 was the best season of his career despite not finishing it. He was a great weapon for quarterback Sam Bradford in the slot, as he worked through zonal defenders and broke down cornerbacks in man coverage. He showed great footwork on pivot ("whip") routes on numerous occasions and how adept he was at getting open when plays broke down.
For a team that's already lacking proven weapons, it'd be a tough blow to lose him to a divisional rival. One big reason why he'd be a tough loss is because Amendola is a strong fit for the 49ers' offense.
The 49ers were perhaps the most revolutionary offensive team last season with their implementation of the Pistol formation and various run packages. But it's the way they pass that could really be problematic—provided he stays healthy—for other teams if he takes his talent to the bay area.
San Francisco's passing game features old West Coast offense principles that put the receiver in a position to pick up yards after the catch and do damage in the middle of the field. That's ideal for the Rams receiver because he does very well in the middle of the field and is also good running outside breaking routes, such as out routes.
An instance of him running an out route (black line) on a popular concept that the 49ers also use quite a bit of is the sprint right option. This is a concept that moves the quarterback out of the pocket as he's reading his receivers. On this particular play, Amendola ran the out route against the Washington Redskins' zone coverage.
While running the route, the quarterback failed to find him near the sideline. For a reason I'm unsure of, Bradford simply did not make the throw when he was supposed to. Instead, he kept working toward the sideline as he stared down the receiver.
This was a problem for Amendola because as he waited for the ball to be thrown, a Redskins defender was inching closer to him. As he neared the sideline, the Rams receiver went away from it in order to get open for his quarterback.
Bradford was quickly running out of space and had to get rid of the ball as a result. At the same time, the Redskins defender ran past Amendola, who slid inside and got open for the catch.
This was what a quarterback looks for in a slot receiver. Receivers of this kind have essentially become the security blankets for quarterbacks much like slow, underneath pass-catching tight ends were in past years. With the NFL using more 11 personnel (three receivers), the slot has evolved and adopted players like Amendola.
But he's not just a slot receiver that finds holes in zone coverage. He can be more than that because he has the foot quickness to separate in man coverage against quick cornerbacks and physical safeties.
One play in the game against the Redskins that stood out was a first down reception in the middle of the field.
Amendola was the second receiver in a stacked set. He would be running an angle route from the alignment while the first receiver ran a quick inside breaking route. The concept called for the first receiver to clear the middle of the field by drawing up the linebackers so the second could work behind them for the catch.
When Amendola released freely off the line of scrimmage, he took a wide path outside the right hash as if he was running an outside breaking route. When the safety defending him widened out to slow down the route, he stabbed his right foot into the ground and turned his body inside.
This was the mark of his quick feet and quality route running. Amendola didn't give the route away with his eyes or shoulders. Instead, he beautifully set it up by drawing the defender outside, thus creating a gap inside before working inside.
With the first receiver drawing the attention underneath, Amendola jumped to bring in the football in front of the deep safety patrolling the middle of the field.
The ability to win one-on-one and find the soft spot in zone coverage is why he's a very good fit for the 49ers. He's able to get behind linebackers consistently, which would help the 49ers' play-action passing game and give them more flexibility in moving around Michael Crabtree.
Most of Amendola's success will hinge on his health, however. He has not been a healthy starter through his four-year career and has missed 20 games in the last two seasons. To his credit, he's shown that he's tough as he's played through injuries and come back from them relatively quickly. But that doesn't mean he can stay in one piece moving forward.
His health could potentially cloud the possibility of him joining the 49ers. From a talent and schematic standpoint, he seems like a real possibility.
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