Danny Amendola: “Nowhere to go but down”?

A Rams fan’s perceptions of Danny Amendola get turned upside down

The St. Louis Rams, newly energized by the Josh McDaniels offense, will be a very hot topic for fantasy football players looking for those ever-elusive sleepers. Logically, Danny Amendola, the Rams’ leading pass catcher (85 receptions and 3 TDs on 114 targets, all team highs) and a Wes Welker clone, should be primed for a big breakout, right?

Not so fast, says a senior fantasy writer for NBCSports.com and RotoWorld.

#Rams WR Danny Amendola’s 8.1 yards-per-catch was the lowest average ever for a receiver with at least 60 receptions. Purely PPR material.

Okay, a little savvy, if pessimistic, fantasy advice there. The Rams haven’t been fantasy relevant for some time, outside of IDP leagues, and each has their own view of upside. We could leave it at that. But as observers from Pro Football Focus and this site both presented arguments to the contrary, a far different view emerges, one that deserves commentary.

Wesseling went on to say that Amendola was used heavily “only because Bradford had no one else after Clayton went down”… that he “just isn’t talented enough” to hold off the added competition on the roster, that “NFL coaches want more play-making ability out of their receivers,” and that his production in the league “has nowhere to go but down.”

While trying to keep the homer hat off, I have to beg to differ.

There’s no doubt that Rams fans have fallen for Amendola. The debate hinges on a central point of contention: is there a “Wes Welker” mold in the McDaniels offense, and is Amendola a sufficiently dynamic player to fill it?

The Welker Role

Welker’s targets and receptions since joining New England have been among the most prolific in the league, with 346 catches from 2007-09. Lining up exclusively in the slot, he has been on the field between 65-75% of his team’s plays.

Despite getting roughly the same play volume in 2010, though, his targets and receptions dipped in 2010 as the Patriots offense became less dependent on Randy Moss’ declining downfield skills and moved to more two-TE sets. This brings up a central point when discussing Welker as a weapon — his skills do not stand alone.

Welker clearly great slot receiver. Does he need vertical WR to be highly productive? Does offense define Welker more than he defines off?

Welker came to NE same year as Moss. Moss dictated higher % of cover 2. Welker great v. cover 2. Moss slipped 2010, so did Welker’s stats.

This will be a critical issue shaping the Rams offense in 2011. Does Donnie Avery or Danario Alexander or a re-signed Mark Clayton become that coverage-changing vertical threat? Do they need to?

Even with reduced usage in 2010, Welker saw 118 targets in 15 games, a rate of 7.8 times per game; Amendola was targeted 114 times in 16 games in Shurmur’s pass-friendly offense, a rate of 7.1 times per game. If Amendola earns the playing time, his production should be just as healthy as before.

Amendola’s Skills  

Coming into 2010, Amendola was a marked man.

The Rams drafted Mardy Gilyard in the 4th round to compete directly with the former underafted free agent. Amendola came to camp that summer determined not to be outworked, though, and simply outran, outcaught and outhustled anyone else in camp, building quick chemistry with Bradford along the way.

Amendola’s hands are not only the best on the team, his 74.6% catch rate ranks behind only the Colts’ Austin Collie in the NFL. In a Rams offense rebuilding around hands, this might be the best skill going. However, it might also be his only pronounced skill.

Matt Waldman, who loves breaking down tape on receivers, provided perspective: “I do have a feeling that Amendola could put up 800-1000 yards in McDaniel’s system.” However, his original draft notes on Amendola didn’t show surprise to see the former Texas Tech Red Raider go undrafted just as Welker was.

After our initial debate, Wesseling went back over the game tape and came back with a more balanced view:

Positives: Works well in tight spaces, always where Bradford thinks he’s going to be, quick in and out of breaks, sells out for every ball.

Negatives: Zero play-making ability, won’t outrun defenders to the corner or the sticks, often came up short of the 1st down, easy to tackle

Comparison to Welker: Same reliable hands, in and out of breaks, reliable for QB. But not nearly as quick after the catch. Easier to tackle

Bottom line: I’m not touching him in standard-scoring, as in I wouldn’t draft him in Round 15. Still has value in PPR, but targets will drop

The last point is still up for contention in my view. I believe, perhaps optimistically, that there is still a significant enough role in the offense, and that an across-the-board boost in scoring will benefit Amendola as much as anyone. He doesn’t have to be Wes Welker to fit his defined niche for this team.