Stop me if you've heard this before. The New England Patriots reach out in free agency to target a small, undrafted, former Texas Tech possession receiver who has shown flashes for a losing team but never emerged as anything more than a complementary option. That receiver steps into the Patriots system and flourishes, in a way far beyond even the wildest and most optimistic expectations.
I'm, of course, talking about Wes Welker.
Many fantasy owners are also hoping I'm talking about Danny Amendola.
After six years in New England with an astounding five 100+ reception seasons, many forget that Welker got his start with the Miami Dolphins and was wholly uninspiring from a fantasy perspective. In 46 games over three years, Welker had just 96 receptions and 1,121 yards, and scored just one touchdown. Yet the Patriots saw something in Welker and signed him away as a restricted free agent.
Six years later, the Patriots are hoping the repeat that successful formula by signing Amendola (who was an unrestricted free agent) to replace Welker (who left for the Denver Broncos). Can lightning strike twice? Bill Belichick certainly believes so.
In Brady We Trust
Tom Brady has proven at this stage of his career that he can elevate players around him. Let's remember that he hasn't always had a cadre of weapons like Rob Gronkowski, Randy Moss and Wes Welker. He won Super Bowls with the likes of Troy Brown, Deion Branch and David Patten. In that capacity, it's certainly reasonable to think Amendola will perform at or above his prior best with Brady under center. Although many (myself included) believe Sam Bradford can grow into a quality NFL starter, his career accomplishments pale in comparison to Brady.
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Opportunity Is Clear
The Patriots have undergone more upheaval this offseason than we've seen in the Brady/Belichick Era.
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As you can see, an astounding 75% of last year's receptions are no longer on the roster. The Patriots have to find a way to replace 301 receptions, 3,414 passing yards and 19 touchdowns. And that's to say nothing of Rob Gronkowski's recovery from back surgery; we're not sure if he's going to be ready for the start of the season. Let's not mince words, there are PLENTY of targets heading Danny Amendola's way...as long as he's on the field.
Injury Red Flag
If we could have a caucus with the fantasy gods and have them guarantee that Amendola would play the majority of the season, he would be easy to project as an every week fantasy starter, particularly in PPR formats. But let's face facts:
- 5'10", 183 lbs.
- 2011 -- Dislocated elbow and triceps injuries (15 games missed)
- 2012 -- Broken clavicle and heel injuries (5 games missed, several others questionable/doubtful)
Some would argue that the term 'injury prone' is an unfair label, but if there were ever a player that warrant's caution on the injury front, it's Amendola.
- Amendola is in his prime, sure handed, a sound route runner and steps into an offensive system tailor made to his talents
- The Patriots have a clear need for his talents after losing 75% of their passing offense
- Tom Brady is one of the league's best quarterbacks
- Injuries have derailed Amendola's effectiveness
- Amendola's low yards-per-reception requires an inordinately high number of targets to warrant a high fantasy value
- The Patriots are known for revamping their offense to suit the personnel, and it's no guarantee that 2013 team will look to throw to the slot receiver in the same way they've done with Welker on the roster
It's almost eerie how much Danny Amendola projects as a younger version of Wes Welker. Same college, same style of play, similar measurables, and now the same elite head coach and quarterback. Based on what we've seen of the Patriots over the last decade, it would be ridiculous to argue that a healthy Amendola won't be a very effective fantasy option, particularly in PPR formats. However, Amendola's injury history HAS to factor into your draft day plans. At his current ADP (53rd overall, WR20), I personally wouldn't touch Amendola -- but recognize that I'm lower on the young receiver than the majority of our staff. If you do roll the dice, you MUST prioritize a strong WR3 and WR4 so that you won't be hamstrung if Amendola misses time.
THOUGHTS FROM AROUND THE WEB
On the other hand, Amendola's value is on the upswing. He should reap the benefits associated with upgrading from Sam Bradford to Tom Brady. For comparison, Bradford has averaged 223.3 passing yards per game and completed just 58.3% of his passes over the past three seasons, while Brady has averaged 290.9 passing yards per game and completed just 64.7% of his passes during that same time frame. By accounting for each quarterback's completion percentage, Amendola's career catch rate should reach career high levels and considering the difference between his and Welker's drop rates from 2012, I expect Amendola to surpass Welker in that category.
Rob Pallazola of Football.com thinks Amendola is the smarter target in the 4th round than Mike Wallace:
So which of these two wide receivers is the best fit for you? Is it going to be the reliable speedster in Miami, or the risky shifty guy in New England? I think the pick here is Danny Amendola. He fits his system better than that of Wallace to Miami, and he has an elite quarterback to get him the ball. With coach Bill Belichick on the sidelines and OC Josh McDaniels calling the plays, it’s hard to bet against Amendola having a breakout season. The injury history doesn’t really worry me too much, and it probably shouldn’t worry you either. This is not to say Wallace is a bust, he will certainly be worth where he is taken in drafts and should score close to 10 TDs this season. I just have less faith in the team around him than I do in Amendola’s situation. It’s time for you to decide now though, so who will it be?