COMMENTARY| Having remade their wide receiver corps this offseason through the draft and a series of free-agent signings, the New England Patriots are unsure about the group's ability to produce this season. Perhaps the most tantalizing question is whether or not quarterback Tom Brady can help Danny Amendola, the team's biggest receiver acquisition, become a star.
Amendola was signed to a 5-year, $31 million free-agent contract this winter after spending the first four years of his career with the St. Louis Rams. His addition came on the heels of wide receiver Wes Welker leaving New England to join the Denver Broncos as a free agent.
The departure of Welker and the 672 passes for 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns he hauled in during his six-year tenure as a Patriot created a huge void. He also surpassed 100 catches in a season five times and led the NFL in catches three times, showing what a huge part he was of the team's offense.
Although the Patriots signed receivers Michael Jenkins, Lavelle Hawkins and Donald Jones, and drafted Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, it's Amendola who is the de facto replacement for Welker. He is not only a similarly smallish (5'11" and 188 pounds) player, he has excelled primarily in the slot during his career, and also attended Texas Tech like his predecessor.
The 27-year-old Amendola has flashed talent during his career but has been slowed by injuries, including missing 20 games over the past two seasons. He has totaled 196 receptions for 1,726 yards and seven touchdowns, including 63 catches for 666 yards and three scores in just 11 games last year.
Conceivably in the prime of his career, Amendola could really break out in 2013 and beyond. Brady, who is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, is a primary reason why his new receiver can become a star in New England.
A scouting report by ESPN Boston's Field Yates credits Amendola for his exceptional route running and great burst. Despite having operated primarily out of the slot, he possesses the speed to work on the outside. Such versatility could really open up the playbook possibilities with the Patriots, as Brady is lethally accurate and has a fondness for the deep ball.
An anonymous NFC scout even told MassLive.com's Nick Underhill he believes Amendola is better than Welker.
Brady and Amendola have been getting plenty of work together already this offseason, giving them an even better chance of clicking as a productive duo when the season starts.
Amendola told WEEI's Christopher Price, "More work is best going into the season. Any time you get a jump and get to work with each other, that's good. We're getting a lot of good work in here right now..."
It's difficult to imagine Amendola will be able to reach Welker's 352 total targets from the past two seasons but anything is possible. With tight end Ron Gronkowski recovering from multiple surgeries, and the presence of rookie receivers, Amendola could become Brady's security blanket.
Brady is going to pass no matter what. He has totaled 10,062 yards in the air and 73 touchdowns over the past two seasons, and is 11th all-time in NFL passing attempts. He has also traditionally had a favorite receiver, with Welker and Troy Brown being the two best examples.
If Amendola can establish a rapport with Brady, he should see a high number of balls thrown his way. Having averaged an impressive 4.4 yards-after-the-catch per reception during his career, he has an ability to pile up the yards when he has the ball in his hands.
Brady has already expressed how much he has enjoyed working with Amendola, telling The Boston Globe's Shalise Manza Young, "He comes in and he works really hard. He wants to do everything right. He's very competitive. It's been a lot of fun."
Despite previous injuries, Amendola is currently healthy and in the best situation of his career. If he can stay on the field, being able to work with Brady gives him an great chance to make the leap to star status.
Brady's positive feelings about his new target were reciprocated by Amendola. As he explained to the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe, "He's a legend. He's a football mind. He's been around the game for a long time, and it's fun to learn from him and play with him, pick his brain a little bit. It's going to be a good year."
Time will tell if Amendola's potential comes to fruition. However, things look very good heading into training camp, and the Patriots may have found their next star receiver.
In addition to the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has covered the Boston Red Sox for Bleacher Report and writes his own blog. He has also appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts, and written on the topics of sports and history for a number of print publications and websites.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew
- American Football
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- Danny Amendola
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