The first move of the Detroit Lions’ 2019 free agent frenzy was one that was not one that garnered much fanfare. They added former New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola on a one year deal, further strengthening their grip on being the official team of former Patriots.
Amendola was coming off of a one year sting with the Miami Dolphins where he caught 59 passes for 575 yards and a touchdown. Despite reaching the age of 33, he still was a formidable receiver out of the slot that could be a reliable short range weapon.
He was tasked with filling big shoes in the Detroit offense. The Lions struggled after dealing away Golden Tate midway through 2018 and while Bruce Ellington did fine in a limited role, he was not enough to really be a factor in the offense. Amendola had an opportunity to be the compliment to Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay inside that the team desperately needed.
While he obviously did not produce as much as Tate did in his many years in Detroit, Amendola definitely proved himself to be a valuable piece to the offense. He caught 62 passes for 678 yards — his highest yardage total since 2010 — and scored a touchdown. He was a consistent part of the offense as well, catching a pass in 14 of the 15 games he played this season.
The receiver mainly worked underneath routes, and a large portion of his receptions in 2019 came on shorter out-routes where he would slip into small pockets left by corners who were playing deeper downfield for a simple catch outside the numbers.
Amendola also does a great job exploiting zone coverage. He is a smart receiver, and you can see his years of NFL experience display itself on the field. The receiver is great at reading defenses and picking them apart to find the small, holes in their coverage for decent downfield gains.
These two skills alone already place him above Ellington, who was a player I thought did great in a limited role. Amendola can clearly serve a purpose on this team, and be a valuable third piece to play between the gaps left between the team’s top two guys.
The receiver does have many flaws in his game, though. While his many years in the NFL have clearly made him a better player mentally, they seem to have taken a toll on his body and he does not move as well as he needs to.
First, Amendola is really slow. When he gets behind defenses he can not really do much to torch them, and any player with even decent recovery speed can usually keep up with him downfield. This incredibly limits his ability to catch anything more than 15 yards downfield.
His footwork is not what it used to be either, which really hurts him as a slot receiver. He has trouble cleanly breaking on routes and needs to shuffle his feet in order to keep his balance. Amendola can not really get open on quick slant routes underneath, as he does not even have the agility to beat linebackers in short spaces.
Finally, Amendola can not do much after the catch. A majority of his yards after the catch this season came on plays where he happened to catch a ball underneath with out any defenders with a mile of him. He would rack up some YAC on these plays, but they also do not show much about his game.
feel like all of danny amendola's longest receptions in 2019 were like this. he didn't really do anything well the other team just forgot to cover him pic.twitter.com/p0oVRO4BZF— mansur (@mansurshaheen) February 5, 2020
What really makes a player great after the catch is there ability to make the first defender missed. Usually when a player catches a pass there is a defender bearing down on them. If they can make that first guy miss, though, then suddenly they find themselves in tons of open space. This is what former Lions receiver Golden Tate did so well in years past as he led the league in broken tackles and yards after catch.
Amendola is entirely unable of making the first man miss. His trouble in short spaces affects him outside too. The receiver is dead in the water the second he makes a catch when he is not wide open, which limits the upside of every pass he catches.
While Amendola was not amazing in 2019, he was enough. With players like Golladay and Jones Jr. playing out wide, that is all Detroit really needs from the slot. He is set to hit free agency this offseason, but the Lions would be smart to bring him back for 2020. Amendola should not be too expensive and has clearly already worked his way into becoming one of Matthew Stafford’s favorite targets.