Amendola had a strong debut (10 receptions, 104 yards) for the Pats on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, but incumbent wideout Julian Edelman was equally as impressive, catching seven passes from quarterback Tom Brady en route to 79 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the first multi-TD game of Edelman's five-year career:
In all fantasy formats, Edelman should now be considered a must-add.
The Patriots beat the Bills, 23-21, as Brady engineered two fourth-quarter scoring drives that ended with Stephen Gostkowski field goals. The latter came with five seconds remaining on the clock and helped New England avoid the upset.
Brady threw the ball 52 times compared to 35 team rushing attempts, and four different receivers saw at least nine targets on the afternoon. Shane Vereen, Amendola and Edelman all turned in strong Week 1 fantasy numbers, but it was the 27-year-old college QB-turned-WR who had the most intriguing afternoon.
Mostly a gadget player through the first four years of his professional career, Edelman has been a standout punt and kick returner. His prowess on special teams and versatility on offense have forced the Patriots to reserve a roster spot for him each year.
In each of the last three seasons, Edelman has returned a punt for a touchdown.
2012 was arguably his best fantasy season to date, but the numbers (21 receptions, 235 yards, three TDs) hardly sided with the idea that Edelman was ready to eclipse Welker and earn a more prominent role in the offense on a weekly basis.
Injuries have also hurt the former Kent State man; New England was forced to put Edelman on season-ending injured reserve in December last year after he broke his foot.
Fast-forward to 2013, and all the evidence points to Edelman's Week 1 performance being a sign of things to come.
Edelman re-signed with the Patriots in April, a move that made sense for both parties following Welker's move to join Peyton Manning's offense in Denver and the overall depleted crop of WRs New England had to work with.
Edelman and Matthew Slater are the only wideouts on the roster who are holdovers from 2012. As noted by Bleacher Report's Erik Frenz in a piece for Boston.com, the comfort level between Brady and Edelman is a major factor in projecting how the WR's season will turn out:
Although Amendola (14), Kenbrell Thompkins (14) and Shane Vereen (10) all had more targets than Edelman (nine), it was the slot speedster who had the best reception-to-target ratio on Sunday afternoon.
Brady was clearly looking Edelman's way in situations where the Patriots needed a big play. After his first touchdown catch, ESPN's Trey Wingo noted that the Patriots might not skip a beat without Welker if Edelman has a strong season:
It was clear watching the Patriots offense on Sunday that chances are going to be there for Edelman to shine.
According to these two tweets from Bleacher Report NFL Lead Writer Matt Miller, the game tape should reveal that the entire unit has work to do this week in practice:
That being said, we know Bill Belichick and the offensive staff in New England are going to put a premium on utilizing one of the greatest QBs of all time to move the ball down the field. That puts more responsibility on a group of largely unproven wideouts to pick up the slack.
From a fantasy perspective, leaving Edelman on the waiver wire for another owner to grab could be a mistake you regret on a weekly basis.
According to NESN's Doug Kyed, there's a great chance he'll be available this week when acquisitions are allowed:
Per ESPN's fantasy football setup, Edelman was the 67th-most sought-after player in fantasy drafts. As of Monday morning, only 5.2 percent of people playing in ESPN leagues had Edelman stashed somewhere on their rosters.
That will change before Week 2.
There's always the off-chance that Edelman could be this year's fantasy troll, recording a double-digit points and touchdown game on opening weekend before flaming out over the course of the next 16 weeks.
FantasyGuru.com doesn't see that happening:
For a point of reference, Edelman recorded 33.6 percent of his yardage total in 2012 on Sunday. His seven receptions were a third of his previous total, and the two touchdowns are two-thirds of what he accomplished in that category last year.
And just to add further value to his name, Edelman was the primary punt returner for the Pats in Week 1—he had three returns for 32 yards.
The consensus is clear—Edelman is a fantasy must-add. It's always difficult to project stats for the ball-spreading Patriots on a weekly basis, especially after just one week, so I wouldn't elevate him to must-start status just yet. As a flex option, though, you could do a lot worse.
Edelman might not live up to Welker's lofty status as a fantasy mainstay, but all the avenues are lining up for him to at least be a consistent starter in lineups everywhere by season's end. Do whatever it takes to add him to your roster this week.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant on Twitter.