What can fans of the New England Patriots expect from this year’s marquee free-agent signing, wide receiver Danny Amendola?
Is he Wes Welker, part two? Any movie buff will tell you sequels rarely measure up to their predecessors, so for New England’s sake I hope that’s not the case. How about Welker-lite? At least that moniker has a built-in reduction of expectations, making it in essence a preemptive strike against disappointment.
Of course there’s also the wildly outrageous “poor man’s Welker” designation we’ve all heard bandied about so recklessly. As if a poor man could afford Amendola and his $5.7 million-dollar average salary.
A more optimistic analyst might even consider him a Welker clone, and while Amendola admittedly has some Welker-esque traits—both thrive in the slot, both have excellent hands and both are lightning quick in and out of their breaks—he isn’t any of these things.
No way, no how.
How do I know that? Because each of them hinges on how he compares to a player who’s no longer on the Patriots roster.
If the Patriots wanted Welker, they would have signed him. They aren’t running a movie studio or a cloning lab. They aren’t counting calories and they certainly aren’t poor. They have no need for watered-down alternatives, cheap imitations or facsimiles. They wouldn’t buy a knock-off when they could have the real thing.
But they let Welker walk and signed Amendola instead, even though the two will earn virtually identical annual salaries ($6 million vs. $5.7 million, according to Spotrac.com), which tells us one very simple truth: Amendola is not some discount warehouse version of Welker.
Granted, he’ll play a similar role, but that doesn’t make him a derivation of Welker any more than running in my New Balance sneakers makes them a pair of Nike cross-trainers.
Amendola is his own player. He is, quite simply, Amendola. Yet the question remains: what can the Patriots expect from him?
Let’s take an in-depth look at the numbers to try and find out.
Since Amendola will presumably slide into Welker’s old slot-receiver position, it’s fair to expect him to see a similar number of targets. Based on ESPN’s statistics, Welker averaged 9.9 targets per game over the past three seasons, excluding the playoffs.
According to Pro Football Focus, those targets came 7.6 yards from the line of scrimmage in 2012 and Amendola’s came 7.9 yards out, so he’s clearly comfortable working the same area of the field as Welker. Given how similar Amendola’s role in New England will be to his role in St. Louis, he shouldn’t suffer through a major adjustment period.
Pro Football Focus also points out that 74.9 percent of Amendola’s 101 targets in 2012 were deemed catchable. He caught 63 passes, meaning of the 75 catchable balls thrown his way, Amendola came down with 84 percent of them.
Not to mention a few that likely weren't considered catchable, like the one featured above.
Please note this does not mean he dropped 16 percent of his accurate targets, it simply means he successfully caught 84 percent. In fact, as PFF points out in a different piece, Amendola has dropped only 11 passes over his entire career. The catchable passes that resulted in incompletions did so through a combination of drops, defensive breakups, miscommunication, etc.
Since he’ll be asked to do so many of the same things for the Patriots he did with the St. Louis Rams, expect those numbers to remain constant.
By comparison, Tom Brady delivered far more catchable passes to Welker than Sam Bradford did to Amendola last season, putting his passes on target 80.3 percent of the time. Assuming Amendola didn’t leave his hands beneath the Gateway Arch, he should have an easier time corralling Brady’s throws than he did Bradford’s.
As mentioned earlier, Brady targeted Amendola’s position an average of 9.9 times per game in recent years. Brady isn’t as familiar with him yet as he was with Welker, but with both starting tight ends recovering from offseason surgery and a slew of new faces in New England’s receiving corps, the two should get real familiar, real quickly.
Based on ESPNBoston's report featured on the right, that process is already well underway.
If Brady stays true to form and delivers a catchable ball 80 percent of the time, Amendola will see roughly eight catchable passes thrown his way each week. When put in a greater context, that means Amendola should have the opportunity to haul in 128 passes over the course of the season.
Given his history, the Patriots can expect him to successfully convert 107 of those opportunities, based on his aforementioned 84 percent conversion rate of catchable passes.
If those 107 receptions come an average of 7.5 yards from the line of scrimmage, Amendola will rack up 802 yards without ever earning a single yard after the catch. In 2012 he ran for 263 yards after his 63 receptions, good for a yards-after-catch average of roughly 4.2, according to ESPN, so rest assured he will be tacking on yards after the reception.
If he has similar results on his projected 107 catches this season, it would add another 449 yards to his total.
He may, however, have even more success after the catch than he did in St. Louis, considering the Patriots offense is much more potent than that of the Rams, and defenses won’t be keying in solely on Amendola like they were last season.
Based on the statistics at Pro Football Reference, the Patriots were 24 percent more productive through the air than the Rams in 2012.
Fittingly enough, ESPN recorded Welker averaging 5.9 yards after the catch last season, roughly 29 percent more than Amendola. Some of that discrepancy undoubtedly stems from Welker making plays, but it correlates very closely to the discrepancy between the two offenses themselves—so closely in fact, that I think it’s fair to attribute at least some of it to the Patriots receivers having more room with which to work, as defenses were forced to divide their attention among New England’s many dynamic weapons.
Amendola might not match that 5.9 yards after the catch, but in a wide-open and highly efficient system, he should at least make up some of the difference. Let’s split the difference and say he averages five yards after the catch, which would net him 535 additional yards on his projected 107 receptions.
So what can the Patriots and their fans expect from Amendola in 2013?
Based on his historical efficacy catching balls that should be caught, playing with the most accurate quarterback of his career, joining the most explosive offense of his career and anticipating his expected role in that offense, I’m projecting him as follows:
107 receptions, 1,337 yards and a handful of touchdowns, while leading the league in Welker comparisons.