How Much Upside Does Danny Amendola Have in the Patriots' Offense?

Unlike most coaches, Bill Belichick schemes against his opponents weaknesses; could this make Danny Amendola relevant?

Bill Belichick is the biggest mastermind in the NFL. While most coaches play to their team's strengths, Belichick plays to the opposing team's weaknesses. 

Last year he showed this multiple times, none more notably than when he had Jonas Gray run for 201 yards against the Colts. This year he showed it with Dion Lewis through Week 9.

While Joe Redemann attempted to identify who the next Patriots lead back will be earlier this week, it is imperative that we remember that Belichick plays both who he likes and who he needs to play, depending on the matchups. Due to this, there is lots of potential that the next man up for the Patriots taking Lewis' passing targets is Danny Amendola.

Reshuffling Targets

Lewis, in addition to his impressive running, turned his 50 targets into 36 receptions. The rest of the Patriots running backs have combined for 15 receptions on 20 targets with none of the other backs seeing more than 10 targets.  While Belichick has made it clear (based on utilization) he does not love LeGarrette Blount, he should receive the early down work but not the vacant targets. Based on the limited work the other backs have seen, it is possible that none of them compensate for Lewis' targets entirely.

If none of the backs take the targets that Lewis got while healthy, then Belichick will redistribute those to whomever he feels has the strongest matchup in a specific game.

Rob Gronkowski, Brandon LaFell, and Julian Edelman (the man who took what was supposed to be Amendola's job) already have their heavy target distribution locked in. While they may see an uptick to compensate for the loss, there still will be room for others to gain targets.

Amendola's Opportunity

So far, Amendola has 37 targets after playing in all eight games for the Patriots. Amendola's targets barely rank him in the top 60 for receivers, but he has caught 30 of them. According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, his receptions have added 29.18 points above expectation for the Patriots. That ranks 50th among all receivers. He efficiently has produced the 25th highest Reception NEP per target (0.79) among 106 receivers with at least 20 targets.

Because Amendola profiles as a slot receiver, the majority of his receiving success has come in only the games this year against the Jaguars, Colts, and Jets. In those games he saw 23 of his 37 targets (62%), and he caught 20 passes for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns. 

Of these three teams, only the Jets are in the top-10 for Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP (6.62); the Colts (70.18) and Jaguars (73.10), respectively, rank 28th and 29th in this metric. In all cases, though, these teams are stronger defending the outside than the inside, as the Jets have Darrelle Revis and the Colts have Vontae Davis lining up against opposing teams top receivers.

Through Week 9, the Patriots have run the 10th most offensive plays (583) with a 1.81 pass to run ratio (meaning 59% of their plays are passes) that is 4th in the league. Overall, the Patriots have run 346 pass plays (ninth most), and Amendola has seen just over 10% of the targets, showing how limited his role has been so far this year.

Although Amendola has a limited role, the Lewis injury gives it room to grow because he has shown stellar efficiency to date. Of the 106 receivers with at least 20 targets, Amendola has the top catch rate (81%) and has an 80% Reception Success Rate, meaning 80% of his catches have contributed towards a positive NEP. His Reception Success Rate is tied with Randall Cobb and ahead of Antonio Brown, both of whom line up in the slot like Amendola.

Finding the Right Matchup

With the Giants losing their run stuffing defensive tackle, Johnathan Hankins, to injury, they could see lots of Blount force trauma in Week 10 if the Patriots attack the Giants' 16th ranked run defense.

The over/under for this game (54.5) is the highest for the week, meaning there should be points to go around. If a shootout ensues, then there is no doubt Amendola should see his fair share of targets. With Prince Amukamara in doubt to play this weekend, Jayron Hosley should slide over to take his spot on the outside across from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

As Joe Redemann covered in his matchups column, the Giants slot corners are flat out bad. With one less good cornerback on the field, this becomes more of a positive matchup for Amendola. Willie Snead, Leonard Hankerson, and Jordan Reed are just some of the receivers and tight ends who have sliced through the middle of the Giants pass defense so far this year, which bodes well for Amendola.

Amendola is our 43rd ranked receiver this week and projects as the 53rd best receiver for the rest of the year. While you probably have better weekly options on your season-long team, Amendola has value in some of his upcoming matchups against the Giants, Titans, and Jets.

There is an inherent risk in starting the third wide receiver on any team, but when you start them in the right situation, the reward is well worth the risk. As a daily play, Amendola represents potentially great value based on the matchup, and as a season-long play, Amendola has some added opportunity with the loss of Lewis going forward.