Is this Danny Amendola's big year?

The Danny Amendola merge into Wes Welker is nearing completion. The St. Louis Rams new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, needs just a few more weeks in the lab to put the finishing touches on this project. Both short, reliable, once-overlooked pass catchers (yes, scrappy) have turned into their quarterback's right hand man. For Danny, however, that meant a bunch of short dump-off passes and an 8.1 yards per catch number that was the lowest of any wide receiver with more than 6 receptions. Expect that to change this year. 

In a short brief with Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com, Amendola expressed considerable excitement about his second year with Bradford and the new offensive system in place under McDaniels. 

My role was a third-down guy, get 4-, 6-, 7 yards a catch. That's the role I was forced to fill. With this new offense, it's a lot different. I could catch balls for 100 yards per game or 50. It will be fun. 

He then went on to note McDaniels' intention to use more receivers and throw the ball a little further than 6 yards at a time. So what can we expect from Amendola this year? The picture is starting to get a little clearer, so let's draw in a few more of the lines...

Amendola's 8.1 YPC last year reminds you more of the YPC for running backs or traditional tight ends. In fact, Steven Jackson had an 8.3 YPC last year. This year, the Rams have two more running backs, both of whom are expected to catch passes, to add to the mix. Of course, there are also those tight ends...you may have heard something about that. 

With Michael Hoomanawanui on the shelf most of last year, his rookie season, and no other reliable options behind him, Amendola caught a lot of balls that might have otherwise gone to the tight end, had Bradford had the chance to establish a connection with Uh Oh. This year, he's already working closely with second-round pick Lance Kendricks. Billy Bajema's 3 catches for 47 yards in yesterday's scrimmage should give you an idea about the role Hoomanawanui or the other tight end behind Kendricks will play in this offense. 

And so what about Amendola? Let's take a look at Wes Welker. 

Last year, in a 2-TE New England system that is partially the model for what McDaniels has in mind for the Rams, Welker caught 86 passes for a total of 848 yards and a 9.9 YPC. Almost two yards better than Danny's YPC average, that was the lowest YPC Welker's tenure in New England. It was also the fewest total for receptions and yardage since Miami traded him to New England. 

With football, circumstances inform the stats, and without Randy Moss (and an ineffective one early on) defenses just didn't have to spread out as much as they once did. That helped make the 2-TE system more effective, while also cutting into the space in which Amendola had to operate. I'll refer you again to 3k's opus on the 2-TE system in New England last year for much more on that offensive approach. 

In 2009, Welker averaged 11 YPC on a league-leading 123 receptions. The year before, McDaniels' last in New England, Welker had a 10.5 YPC on 111 receptions. Moss was a big factor in both those seasons, peeling away some coverage and opening the field for more yards after the catch. 

Welker had 6 receptions of 20 or more yards last year, compared to just 2 for Amendola. In 2009, Welker had 8 for 20+ and 3 for 40+ yards, numbers that don't factor our long YAC runs. In 2008, Welker had 13 catches for 20+ yards and 1 catch for 40+ yards.

Don't expect to see Amendola running go routes. He's a quick twitch player with good hands, but he just doesn't have the kind of downfield ability for that. Neither does Welker. 

Expect the running backs to take away some of those security blanket dump off passes, and hopefully a better downfield game to take away the need for so many of those check down type plays. Amendola will still work in close proximity to the line of scrimmage, with an uptick of a few percentage points in the number of mid-depth routes and targets. 

The biggest help to pumping up last year's anemic YPC number for Amendola will come from a legitimate downfield game. Bradford and McDaniels lack a player of Randy Moss' caliber, the kind of guy that demands the attention of secondaries; however, he does have a couple of Brandon Lloyd types in Brandon Gibson and Mike Sims-Walker. Hopefully Danario Alexander can be a factor as well, since his skill set lends itself well to expanding the field.

With defenses more spread out, Danny can work those mid-depth routes and pickup additional YAC, something that was hard to come by last year with defenses bunched up close to line only concerned with Steven Jackson and preventing the dink and dunk passes from gaining enough for a new set of downs. 

Another note, if you're thinking of those other receivers in the Brandon Lloyd role, then you can also think of Danny Amendola in the Eddie Royal role. Royal had 59 receptions for 627 yards and a 10.6 YPC in Denver's offense. Amendola's numbers should be somewhere between Royal's and Welker's last year. 

This should finally be the year that Danny Amendola break the 9.0 YPC threshold, joining the ranks of wide receivers in that statistical category...and getting lumped together with Wes Welker forever.  

Something else to think about if/when Danny puts up more Welker like numbers in 2011... Amendola is playing on a one-year exclusive rights free agent contract, paying him $480,000. Welker, playing in the last year of his contract, is getting $2.5 million, a bargain in and of itself. Neither player is likely to be as affordable in 2012. 

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