There’s a prevailing belief among a contingent of New England Patriots fans that Danny Amendola has been an abject failure in just one season with the Pats and that the team should release him. I hope none of those people are laughing at the Cleveland Browns front office, because they would be guilty of the same crime; writing off somebody after just one season, especially when that person didn’t actually perform poorly. There is no way I am going to defend Amendola’s performance against the Denver Broncos, because it’s one of the worst I have ever seen from a wide receiver in a Patriots uniform in a big playoff game. And for those of you asking “But what about Wes Welker?”, I think you need to realize that one or two bad plays in a game of roughly 60 offensive snaps should not characterize a game. Amendola, on the other hand, had an indefensibly bad performance against Denver by dropping the one official target thrown to him.
But in the context of the 2013 season, I’d argue that Danny Amendola had a very solid season when he was healthy (if he was truly healthy at all, since that groin injury seems to be nastier than we were let on), because pretty much every advanced statistic in the book paints the picture of a quality wideout. And that’s the thing: Amendola is only supposed to be the third option in the passing attack with a healthy Rob Gronkowski and an incredibly productive Julian Edelman in tote. Moreover, it would be ridiculous to release a productive receiver in Amendola with Edelman set to hit the free agent market and some uncertainty regarding the talent of the rest of the weapons around Tom Brady. Whether you are aware of it or not, Amendola is one of the most dependable receivers on the rostser, and it’s clear that only Gronk and Edelman are better right now.
Let’s take a look at some of the numbers, shall we? Win Probability Added, as explained here by Advanced NFL Stats, measures how much a player contributed to the team’s chances of winning with each play. Including the playoffs, which weighed down Amendola’s totals noticeably due to his putrid AFCCG performance, Amendola was fifth in the NFL among wide receivers in WPA per game. Fifth. This isn’t a be-all, end-all stat by any means and has it’s flaws, but it’s a very good rough estimator of an offensive player’s value to his team (to wit, Brady was third in WPA among quarterbacks, behind only Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, which isn’t a surprise at all). The four receivers with higher WPA/G totals than Amendola? Anquan Boldin, Calvin Johnson, Josh Gordon, and Antonio Brown. Terrible company, right?
Now how about with Expected Points Added, which substitutes win probability with points added based on plays contributed. Since EPA/P gives us too skewed of a sample size (a receiver who has less targets will inherently have a higher total, which is unfair), we’ll look at EPA totals overall without including the playoffs (it would give Amendola and receivers who played in the playoffs an unfair advantage, since it’s a counting stat). Amendola was eighth in EPA among receivers last season, and he was once again in great company (Boldin, Brown, Johnson, Gordon, Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant, and Keenan Allen were the only ones better). Again, these stats are only rough estimators, but it’s quite clear that two top ten finishes among a crowd of great players hints at something much more than an aberration.
Critics will say that Danny Amendola caught just 54 passes for 633 yards and missed four games due to injury, but I think the criticism of Amendola’s propensity for suffering injuries is the only legit one. If you look closely, the only reason why Amendola had lower snap counts and reception totals isn’t because he lost Brady’s trust or was bad. (Seriously, where did that come from? I’ll believe it when someone has a report that’s actually sourced, since I’m not one to buy baseless speculation.) No, the Patriots did that to manage Amendola’s snaps and keep him more fresh throughout the seasons for two reasons: 1) he was probably still suffering from groin pains and 2) they knew that they needed to save him for more critical situations, hence part of the reason why his WPA and EPA totals are so strong.
Other advanced statistics (there’s no point in only using simple box score metrics to evaluate players, because that’s where skewed perceptions come from) back up the notion that Amendola played solid football in his first season in Foxboro. He averaged a solid 7.6 yards per target (0.6 more than Edelman, but that’s skewed against Edelman since he caught shorter passes and had to do more work moving the chains) and caught 65.1% of everything thrown at him. He also led the team with a 58.9% success rate, which measures how consistent a player was (it’s a ratio of how many successful plays they had in relation to the total amount of plays they were involved in).
Still not sold that Amendola was actually good last season? Let’s move on to the statistics found on the Pro Football Focus. He was, of course, given a positive grade, and this includes blocking. Bill Belichick likes his wide receivers to make contributions as blockers, and Amendola is, in my view, easily their best blocker. He’s strong and vicious for a man of his size, and no play stands out to me more than when he pancaked Cleveland Browns respected veteran LB D’Qwell Jackson.
Back to the receiving stats. Per the Pro Football Focus, Tom Brady had a 97.3 QB Rating when throwing it in Amendola’s direction, which is 18th in the league among all players with at least 80 targets. Amendola was also 18th in the league in yards per route run from the slot, and the two players tied for 19th were Edelman and Wes Welker. When the Patriots used him in the slot, they made sure to get him involved.
By just about every statistical measure, Amendola had a good season, and his overall statistics cannot be used to undermine how he played, since the Patriots used him differently; they saved him for key situations in games to keep him fresh but made sure to use him when he was on the field. Don’t let one awful game (even if it came in their most important game to that point) overshadow a season of solid play. Sure he is injury-prone, but he did play in 12 games. For comparison purposes, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins plays in 11 each. Although he won’t be cheap when he makes $6 million in the final year of his deal in 2017, that’s a ways off. Next season, he’s making just $3 million. So for one of the league’s better No. 2 wideouts, you are paying him just $3 million next season and $4 million the year after. He’s an injury risk, but why would you cut him after one season, especially when the Patriots have safeguards (a team-friendly deal that escalates) against potential injury? Why would you cut him when he’s going to be at his cheapest?
Cutting Danny Amendola would be ridiculous, and it’s important to take a look at the whole picture and the analytics to fully grasp what he brings to the table. Brady doesn’t trust him?I don’t buy that at all.