The New England Patriots have a tall order to move on from their short receiver, but it can be done.
Tom Brady may be singing the blues after saying goodbye to his favorite target over the past five years, but life goes on, and so will the Patriots offense.
Singing the blues? Hard to say goodbye? This calls for "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday," Fire Joe Morgan style!
How do I say goodbye to what we had?
Answer: sign a receiver with similar measurables who went to the same school and put up similar stats in the year prior to signing with the Patriots. There are a couple of tight ends on the roster who might be able to help with that, as well. Also, drafting a receiver or two might help.
The good times that made us laugh outweighed the bad.
Well, that depends on your opinion on the answer to this question: Do 672 regular-season receptions outweigh two painful postseason drops?
I thought we'd get to see forever, but forever's gone away.
"I love Wes Welker. I hope he remains a Patriot for life," said Robert Kraft, literally two days before Welker left the Patriots.
It may be hard, but they can say goodbye to yesterday.
Hello, Danny Amendola
And hello, comparisons to Welker.
Although Amendola is not being brought in to do the exact same things and put up the exact same numbers that Welker did, he will be asked to fill that role in some capacity.
It's not a direct swap, but it will be in some ways.
Colleague and x's-and-o's expert Alen Dumonjic pointed out how the two receivers are similar and different in a recent post, and his conclusion was this:
While Welker has been the more productive receiver on the field in terms of yards and catches, Amendola has been a more efficient receiver when it comes to catching the football. ... [Amendola is] also a different type of receiver. Although Amendola plays in the slot like Welker, he's not necessarily confined to the first 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. He has the ability to work vertically, as I'll later explain, as well as in the underneath area.
Thankfully, ProFootballFocus.com put together this chart to illustrate exactly how the two have been used (click here for a full-size version).
Percentage-wise, Amendola was more effective on deep routes than Welker was, and that was while catching passes from Sam Bradford.
Amendola has a similar ability to create separation with his quickness and agility, and also to find the soft spots in zone coverage.
He put that and a lot more on display with a simple one-yard touchdown catch against the Redskins.
It's not that the route was spectacular—just a simple curl route in the front of the end zone—but it was how Amendola set up the route that impressed me. Both linebacker London Fletcher and DeAngelo Hall (circled in red) were on Amendola on this play, but neither was able to stop him from making the catch.
With a quick burst off the snap, Amendola sold a route slightly to the outside, which allowed him to shake Hall.
Thus, when he quickly pivoted to face his quarterback, he only had one defender to worry about.
Amendola is not a physically imposing receiver, but he is certainly more so than Welker. He was able to wall off Fletcher with his body, and made the contested catch with his hands while taking the hit from behind.
Routes like this are perfect for a player with Amendola's skill set, who has the ability to create enough separation on such a route to make the catch.
Did I mention he can get deep, too?
He only had two catches in two games against the Cardinals, but totaled 82 yards on those catches. This one was in the second meeting and went for 38 yards, and exhibited some of the athleticism Amendola brings to the table.
Once again, Amendola did a great job setting up his route, breaking slightly to the outside off the line of scrimmage, which caused Cardinals cornerback William Gay (circled in red) to get turned around while on him in man coverage.
Once that transpired, Amendola turned on the jets and blew right past Gay.
And then, this happened.
Amendola secured the big play with a leaping catch, with the cornerback close by.
Welker will be missed for his familiarity, but Amendola will be welcomed for his versatility and explosive potential, as well as his ability to mimic many of the same things Welker was able to do for the Patriots.
Utilizing the Tight Ends
Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have earned a lot of names: "The Boston TE Party," "Gronknandez" and others. Now, we can just call them the focal point of the offense.
The Patriots signed the two to a collective 13 years and $92.73 million worth in extensions during the 2012 offseason. All this went down while the Patriots and Welker were still at odds over his future with the team. It also seemed to signal the end for Welker in a Patriots uniform.
That's because Hernandez can accomplish many of the same things as Welker from the slot.
Take, for example, this route he ran against the Dolphins.
He ran an out route against man coverage, but the way he ran it allowed him to get separation. He wasn't lazy about it, but he set up the route perfectly and saved his burst for his break.
That allowed him to get open for an easy completion and a few yards after catch, which was Welker's forte as well.
He also has the quickness to be effective on screens.
Against the Titans in Week 1, he lined up on the outside for a screen pass in a four-receiver set with Stevan Ridley motioning out wide out of the backfield.
After making the catch, Hernandez put his quickness on display with a few timely cuts that allowed him to pick up 12 yards on 2nd-and-3 to move the chains.
Statistically, it makes sense to move away from Welker with the tight ends already in the fold.
With three of the Patriots threats doing their best work over the middle of the field, it made things all too easy for good defenses in the playoffs. The Patriots were shut down time and time again by teams who could effectively cover the middle of the field.
Now, the focus can be on the two tight ends.
With Amendola, Hernandez and Gronkowski, the Patriots already have three threats that can line up inside and outside. Add Edelman to that group, and it's legitimately four receivers that can line up anywhere on the field. Try matching personnel when they break the huddle, and it could be a difficult task.
While Amendola is truly a jack of all trades, Hernandez and Gronkowski will both be at their best working the middle of the field. Of the two tight ends, Hernandez is more likely to line up outside.
The final piece to the puzzle is a dynamic x-receiver to really open things up on the outside. Yes, Amendola can work the deep half, but the Patriots need a receiver who excels at that.
With the draft coming up, Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has become a popular choice to fill that role.
He isn't exactly a burner, but he makes big plays, as evidenced by his average of 17.1 yards per reception in 2012.
Not only does he have the size to win matchups on the outside, but just like the three top targets already in the fold, Hopkins can line up both inside and outside. Those abilities, along with great hands and crisp routes, have drawn comparisons to Roddy White, Sidney Rice and Reggie Wayne in that regard.
This is considered a deep draft class for receivers, though, and the Patriots could net a solid receiver in the second round if they were to target Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter, Tennessee Tech receiver Da'Rick Rogers or Baylor receiver Terrance Williams, among others.
Whoever it is, the need for a dynamic threat on the outside remains evident. With so many talented receivers available, there's no reason the Patriots shouldn't come away from this year's draft with one or more of those prospects.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise noted, all stats obtained from the Sports-Reference.com network, and all quotes obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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