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A closer look at Danny Amendola

Amendola in his element

Amendola in his element.

Few get the statheads talking like Danny Amendola. Bill Barnwell wrote a free-agent book on Amendola in March, where he presented Amendola in the best possible light. Barnwell noted that over the last four years, Bradford has completed 66.5% of his passes aimed at Amendola compared to just 56.8% to all other targets. Barnwell further argued that since Amendola was much more productive in St. Louis than Wes Welker was in Miami, there is a good chance Amendola sees a big, Tom Brady-induced spike when he moves to New England, too.

Scott Kacsmar takes a slightly different view. First, the pro-Amendola argument: since 2010, the Rams are 12-15-1 (.446) when Amendola plays and 4-16 (.200) when he is out. Kacsmar also shows that the Rams averaged 18.9 PPG, 5.8 yards per pass attempt, and 312 yards per game, along with a 5.9% sack rate, in games with Amendola, versus averages of just 12.6, 5.6, 296, and 8.1%, respectively, in games that St. Louis played without Amendola. On the negative side, Kacsmar focused on Amendola’s miserable 8.81 yards-per-reception average, the lowest in history by a wide receiver with at least 100 receptions (by a pretty large margin). Another reason not to be impressed with Amendola’s high catch rate is that 29% of his receptions were “failed completions”1 according to Kacsmar.

Amendola is a unique player in the same sense that Darren Sproles isn’t a traditional running back or Tim Tebow isn’t a traditional quarterback. Amendola’s a wide receiver, but he doesn’t operate the way wide receivers have for much of NFL history. According to Pro Football Focus, Amendola was in the slot on 85% of his routes over the last four years; that’s an enormous number, as even Wes Welker ran routes out of the slot on “only” 73.8% of his routes over that time period.

There has been a lot of excellent writing about Amendola. While I don’t know what I can add to the discussion, let’s start by taking a closer look at Amendola’s career.

2012 Amendola

As is often the case with Amendola, we need to account for his injuries. He was hurt in the second quarter of this game against the Cardinals in week 5, came back to play against the 49ers in week 10, and then was hurt again in a game against the Jets in week 11. The sternum injury he suffered against Arizona got more publicity, but some have argued that the heel injury against New York was the more serious one.

An optimistic view of Amendola would say we should only look at his performance in five games; weeks 1 through 4 before the sternum injury and the game against the 49ers in week 10 before the heel injury. Doing so would paint the picture of a star wide receiver: in those five games, he totaled 42 catches for 453 yards and two touchdowns, which translates to a Welker-like 134/1450/6 stat line over 16 games.

But while Amendola may have produced good numbers, the same wasn’t true of his quarterback. The first row below shows Sam Bradford’s performance in the five “Amendola” games against Detroit, Washington, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco; the second row shows how Bradford played in the other eleven games.

CmpAttPydTDINTSkYdSk%Cmp%Y/ANY/AANY/A
103164115664161139.8%62.8%75.85.5
2253872546159191204.9%58.1%6.665.7

Bradford’s sack rate was twice as high with Amendola around, which flies against conventional wisdom. Bradford also averaged more NY/A and ANY/A without Amendola. So what gives? Part of it is schedule-related: the five Amendola teams allowed 5.82 NY/A to opponents while the eleven non-Amendola teams allowed 6.06 NY/A. In other words, Bradford performed at roughly league average in both sets of games. But that only serves to make Amendola sound like a replaceable part. The Rams suffered a significant amount of injuries, so it’s not like the Amendola and non-Amendola Rams teams were identical units. But I think the optimistic view of Amendola’s 2012 season — throw out all but his five healthy games — still leaves us wondering how much value he actually provided.

On the other hand, there is yet another way to look at Amendola’s production last year. In those five games, Amendola saw 55 of the 136 targeted passes by the Rams. That translates to an incredible 40% target rate, which matches the astronomically high average set by Brandon Marshall in Chicago this year. In the eleven non-Amendola games, the Rams had 381 targeted passes. Amendola still saw 45 of them, as the non-Amendola games include partial games before he was injured and games where he was ineffective with the heel injury. The leading target was Chris Givens (70), followed by Brandon Gibson (57) and then Lance Kendrick (45), Amendola, Steven Jackson (42) and Austin Pettis (42). That no one receiver was able to receive a significant number of targets in those games is a sign that Bradford was forcing the ball to Amendola not because that’s how Bradford plays quarterback but because Amendola brought something special to the table. Even in the five pure Amendola-less games where he saw zero targets, Givens still only saw 40 of 179 targets (22%), which led the team. Bradford had an obvious preference for Amendola, an indicator that he was much more than a replaceable part on a bad offense.

Pre-2012 Career

In 2011, Amendola caught 5 passes on 6 targets for 45 yards in the season opener against the Eagles, but a dislocated elbow (followed by a triceps injury in practice) ended his season.

As a rookie in 2009, Amendola mostly contributed on special teams, with his offensive production limited to 43 catches for just 326 yards. That leaves 2010 as the other real test case.

That was Sam Bradford’s rookie year — a season which was never as good as people claimed it was — and Amendola played in all 16 games. But while Amendola did record 85 receptions, he gained only 689 yards and scored just three touchdowns. Among players with at least 55 catches and no more than 10 rush attempts, Amendola’s 8.1 yards per reception average that season is the lowest mark in history. That year the Rams ranked 30th in Net Yards per Attempt and 28th in ANY/A. If a team has a terrible passing offense while featuring a good receiver, you’d expect that player to be head and shoulders above the rest of his team. But Amendola gained only 19.6% of the Rams’ receiving yards that year. He wasn’t even a dominant player on a terrible passing offense, so it’s hard for me to get too excited about his 85 catches.

Conclusion

I’m not sure where to end up on Amendola. Even though the Rams score more points and win more games when he’s in the lineup, it’s hard to see how much value he has provided. He was a bit part on a terrible passing offense in 2010, injured in 2011, and effective when he played in 2012 but only on the individual (and not team) level.

According to Mike Clay, Wes Welker’s average depth of target last over the last five years was 4.6 yards in 2008, 5.8, 5.3, 7.5, and 7.7 last year. Meanwhile, Amendola’s aDOT was 4.8 in 2009, 4.9 in 2010, and 7.8 in 2012. They are similar players, and in some ways, Amendola is more Welker than Welker (more time in the slot, lower average depth of target, and skinnier). If you want to argue that he’s about to break out, you really need to focus on the 40% target rate he saw in five games in 2012. Otherwise, most of the evidence indicates that he’s a pretty average player. The Patriots seem like the perfect fit for him, of course, what with Brady loving the short passing game (New England set a record for first downs last year) and Welker no longer on the team. But even if Amendola does well in New England, my guess is that just means a handful of other slot receivers could have done the same thing.

  1. These are plays where the player fails to gain a minimum percentage of yards towards a first down (45 percent on first down, 60 percent on second down and 100 percent on third/fourth down. []
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