One of the most startling developments in the 2012 offseason was when the New England Patriots parted ways with longtime slot receiver Wes Welker and replaced him with the talented but injury-prone Danny Amendola.
Welker took more money to go to the Denver Broncos, where he's likely to continue his great career catching passes from another great quarterback. It's not so bad for Amendola either, as he transitions from catching passes thrown by Sam Bradford to catching passes from future Hall of Fame inductee Tom Brady.
The two receivers have been compared to each other in the past and will be compared even more now. While Welker has been the more productive receiver on the field in terms of yards and catches, Amendola has been a more efficient receiver when it comes to catching the football.
As colleague Erik Frenz once explained, Amendola is less likely to drop the football than Welker:
According to ProFootballFocus.com's slot performance metrics, Amendola's catch rate was just 2.4 percent lower in the slot than Welker's, but his drop rate in the slot was just 1.9 percent compared to Welker's whopping 12.9 percent rate. Amendola also caught as many touchdowns in the slot as Welker did, both finishing with three apiece, but Welker got his on 50 more targets.
He's also a different type of receiver. Although Amendola plays in the slot like Welker, he's not necessarily confined to the first 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. He has the ability to work vertically, as I'll later explain, as well as in the underneath area.
Underneath, Amendola does an excellent job of quickly running routes and creating separation. He has impressive agility and a knack for finding uncovered areas in zone coverage. He's shown this on numerous occasions, but one occasion that's stood out for a while to me is a touchdown he scored against the Baltimore Ravens in the preseason last year.
Lined up in the slot to the wide side of the field, he was set to run a reverse pivot route. It is designed as an out route that has the receiver reverse outside and come back to the middle of the field.
For this play to work, the in-line tight end would have to clear out the middle linebacker by running an out-and-up route. However, one threat to the success of the play would be outside linebacker Paul Kruger (circled).
When the play begins, Amendola makes a round cut as he releases to the outside. Simultaneously, the tight end draws the attention of Kruger and the middle linebacker before breaking for the end zone. Then, Amendola plants his inside foot in the ground and looks to change direction toward the middle of the field.
He starts to run full speed parallel to the line of scrimmage and, as usual, is aggressive in attacking the thrown football. He catches the ball right in front of Kruger and turns into the end zone for six points.
This type of route is what he and Welker excel at. They do a very good job of finding the soft spot in zone coverage and, when faced with man coverage, running away from the defender.
Because of the way the Patriots' offense is designed, with the slot receiver running routes that are crafted for maximum yards after the catch opportunities, Amendola could do severe damage to defenses.
While the two have similarities in the underneath area, they're not entirely similar vertically. Amendola is a bigger target at 5'11" and a better vertical threat. When he combines technique with his speed, he can be difficult to slow down.
Just ask Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, who was assigned Amendola on a vertical route in Week 5.
The then-Rams receiver was lined up to the outside, where he had plenty of room to work with because the ball was on the far hash. He would be running a simple go route against Peterson.
Once the ball snapped, Amendola released outside and immediately started working the route vertically. He stemmed his route parallel to the sideline and then made a very savvy move.
Using the well-known technique of pushing off, he leaned into Peterson to slow the cornerback down and push himself forward to create separation.
The separation was obvious after the push-off, as the cornerback fell a couple of steps behind when he tried to find his balance.
As Peterson worked to get back into coverage, he lost track of the ball. Amendola was forced to slow down because it was underthrown, but he still made an incredible one-handed grab.
Provided he's healthy, there's a chance that Amendola is a better receiver than Welker in New England.
He's not going to catch the same amount of passes even if he is healthy, but there's a possibility that he's a more efficient and explosive receiver.
The Patriots sorely need more vertical options in the offense and Amendola could provide that to a degree. He's not like Torrey Smith when running routes, so the team will need to add more speed. But for now, Amendola's a good start.