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2013 Breakout Pick

By Jared Smola 6:56am EDT 7/16/13

A few years ago, we used a simple formula to peg LeSean McCoy as our 2010 Breakout Pick.  It went a little something like this:

Talent + Opportunity = Fantasy Breakout

That worked out pretty well.  McCoy exploded that year for 1,672 total yards and 9 TDs, finishing as a top 8 RB across fantasy formats.  So we'll go back to the well and use that same formula for 2013.

Patriots WR Danny Amendola might not be an elite talent, but he's certainly an underrated one.  And with his new role as New England's #1 WR, he's primed for a breakout campaign.

Amendola vs. Welker

Let's start by dissecting Amendola's skill set.  The best way to do that is by comparing him to Wes Welker.  The similarities between the 2 are countless.  And Amendola is also stepping into Welker's old role as the Patriots' primary slot receiver.

From a pure size and athleticism standpoint, Amendola compares favorably to his predecessor.  Here's a quick look at both guys' measurables:


Wes WelkerDanny Amendola
Height5'95'10
Weight185188
40 Time4.654.58
20-Yard Shuttle4.014.25
3-Cone7.096.81
Vertical Jump30"31.5"
Broad Jump9'5"8'7"

Amendola is slightly bigger than Welker and also has the edge in straight-line speed.  The pair split the agility and change-of-direction drills (Shuttle and 3-Cone) and the explosion drills (Vertical and Broad).  We're looking at very similar physical specimens here.

It's also convenient for our comparison that both guys are Texas Tech alums.  Welker was a Red Raider from 2000 to 2003.  Amendola enrolled the following year, playing his college ball from 2004 to 2007.  Here are each guy's career numbers at Tech:

Wes Welker

YearCatchesYardsTDsYards Per Catch
200026334012.8
200150582511.6
2002861054712.3
2003971099911.3
Totals25930692111.8

Danny Amendola

YearCatchesYardsTDsYards Per Catch
20041311919.2
200534395311.6
200648487510.1
20071091245611.4
Totals20422461511.0

Welker edges Amendola in career totals.  But Amendola's massive 2007 campaign trumps any single season Welker turned in.  (And that came despite Michael Crabtree amassing 134 catches, 1,962 yards and 22 TDs in '07). 

It's also worth noting that Welker played in a more potent passing game.  Over his final 2 seasons, Texas Tech averaged 5,812 passing yards and 52 TDs.  The team averaged "just" 5,459 yards and 45 scores in Amendola's last 2 years.  Taking that into account, college production was relatively even.

It goes without saying that Amendola's NFL numbers don't approach Welker's.  No one has more catches than Welker's 672 since he joined the Patriots in 2007.  His 7,459 receiving yards over that span rank 4th.  Welker has averaged 112 catches and 1,243 yards over the past 6 seasons. 

Amendola's 85-catch, 689-yard 2010 campaign stands as his best pro season.  That followed a 43-346-1 line in his 2009 rookie campaign.  After missing virtually all of 2011, Amendola tallied 63 catches for 666 yards and 3 scores this past year.

It's hardly fair to compare the raw numbers, though.  Welker has played with a much better QB in a much better offense.  He's also stayed healthier and played in more games. 

In the peripheral stats, Amendola stacks up well against Welker.

We'll look to Pro Football Focus here.  The PFF guys watch every player on every snap of every game and assign a performance grade.  We've found their information extremely helpful in evaluating players.

In PFF's overall WR grades (which take into account pass plays, run plays, blocking and penalties), Amendola's last 2 healthy seasons have found him even with Welker.  Back in 2010, Amendola graded out 39th among WRs - 1 spot ahead of Welker.  This past year, Amendola posted a career-best 14th-place finish.  That was just a couple spots behind 12th-place Welker.

How about just the passing-play grades?  That's what we're really interested in as fantasy guys.  Amendola finished a respectable 44th at the position in 2010.  Welker was 40th that year.  In 2012, Amendola shot up to 15th - ahead of guys such as Dez Bryant, Victor Cruz, Marques Colston and … Wes Welker, who finished 20th.

The most impressive part of Amendola's game is his hands.  Few WRs have been more reliable over the past 4 years.  Wes Welker isn't one of them.

Welker posted a 4.65% drop rate (calculated by dividing total drops by total number of catchable balls) in 2009, besting Amendola's 6.52% mark.  But Amendola has finished with a lower rate in each of the 3 seasons since.  He recorded a 6.59% in 2010, while Welker struggled to a 13.13% mark.  Amendola caught all 5 of his catchable balls in that injury-shortened 2011 campaign.  Welker dropped 9.63% that year.  This past season, Amendola dropped just 2 of 64 catchable passes - good for a sterling 3.13% drop rate.  Only 4 WRs who saw 60+ targets were better.  Welker finished at 11.28% last year.

The totals over the past 4 years?  47 drops on 496 catchable balls for Welker - a 9.48% drop rate.  Amendola has dropped just 11 of 206 chances for a 5.34% drop rate.  We can safely say that Amendola possesses more reliable hands than Welker.

All those words and numbers above tell us this: Amendola is at least as talented as Welker.  And he might be even more talented.

Of course, talent doesn't necessarily lead to production.  It hasn't yet for Amendola.  But that's largely because he's missed time and played in a mediocre passing game.

Amendola's injury history

The injuries aren't as big a concern as you might think.  Amendola has missed 20 of a possible 62 NFL games, so we can't completely dismiss the durability concerns.

At the same time, it's not as if Amendola has some chronic problem.  He's never shredded a knee or torn an Achilles.  His injuries have been a dislocated elbow and torn triceps in 2011 and a dislocated clavicle and heel/foot sprain this past season.  Some serious stuff, but nothing that will linger or be an issue in 2013. 

Now, Amendola is an undersized NFL player who plays with reckless abandon.  He's not afraid to go over the middle and will lay out for any ball he deems catchable.  That could certainly lead to another injury this year.  But it's also possible that he finally has some good luck and stays healthy.  And if that's the case, there's little else standing between Amendola and a highly productive 2013 campaign.

New England's elite offense

Supporting cast and workload won't be issues this year.

Amendola is joining a Patriots offense that's been among the NFL's elite for the past 10+ seasons.  Since Tom Brady took over in 2001, New England has finished among the top 12 in points scored in all 12 seasons.  That includes 5 top 5 finishes and a trio of #1 rankings.  The Pats have also finished inside the top 11 in total yards in 9 straight years.  They've been top 5 in 5 of the past 6.

The passing game has been the focal point of the Patriots offense.  They've ranked among the top 12 in passing yards in 11 straight years.  Three of the past 4 seasons have found them inside the top 4.  New England has finished top 13 in passing TDs in all 12 seasons since Brady took over.  The past 3 years have seen them finish 1st, 4th and 4th.

This is a consistently dominant offense that revolves around the passing game.  Compare that to Amendola's Rams squads from 2009 to 2012.  All 4 of those units finished among the bottom 10 in total yards and points.  They never ranked higher than 18th in passing yards or TDs.  Tough to produce fantasy numbers as a WR in a subpar passing game.  The step up in supporting cast should provide a big boost to Amendola's stat line.

Slot receiver production

Amendola's specific role in the Patriots' offense gives him even more upside.  He's set to step in as the primary slot receiver.  That's the spot that's yielded big-time numbers for Welker over the past 6 seasons.

Five of those 6 years have seen Welker finish with 111+ catches and 1,165+ yards.  The only exception was 2010, when Welker was returning from that January's torn ACL.  Even that year saw him rack up 86 catches, 848 yards and 7 scores.  Welker finished 23rd among WRs in standard-scoring fantasy leagues and 18th in PPRs.  Here are his final fantasy rankings in his 5 healthy seasons in New England:


Non-PPRPPR
2012127
201132
2009124
20082110
20071110

Welker was a perennial top 10 guy in PPR fantasy leagues.  Only 1 year saw him finish outside the top 12 in non-PPR setups.  In short, he was a virtual lock for WR1 production across formats.

Even more encouraging for Amendola's 2013 outlook as New England's slot guy is the number of targets Welker saw.  He finished all 6 of his seasons with the Pats with at least 122 targets.  He saw 150+ looks in 4 of 6 years.  He was among the league's top 4 WRs in targets 3 different times.  Welker averaged 154 targets per season.  To put that in perspective, guys such as Steve Smith, Marques Colston and Vincent Jackson have never once seen 154 looks in a season.

Welker's workload was consistent, too.  He saw double-digit targets in 39 of his last 61 games (64%).  He finished with fewer than 6 targets just 4 times over that span.

Instant impact

There's every reason to believe that Amendola will be just as busy in his 1st season with the Pats.  The team certainly didn't ease Welker in.  He went for 112 catches, 1,175 yards and 8 TDs in his debut season with the Pats.  All 3 marks ranked among the top 2 on the team.  So did his 145 targets.

It's not like Welker arrived in New England as a bona fide stud, either.  His first 2 NFL seasons in Miami produced a total of 96 catches, 1,121 yards and 1 TD.  He headed to the Patriots off a 67-687-1 line.  That's similar to the 63-666-3 Amendola tallied in 11 games last year.  And remember that he also has an 85-catch campaign under his belt.  Amendola actually has a better track record as he joins the Patriots than Welker did.

Besides, Brady will need to look Amendola's way often by necessity.  New England's pass-catching corps has been depleted this offseason.  Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead are all gone for various reasons.  All 4 guys ranked among the team's top 5 pass-catchers last year.  Combined, they produced 283 catches on 443 targets for 3,194 yards and 18 TDs.  That was 71% of New England's total catches, 66% of the receiving yards and 53% of the TDs.  The other top-5 guy, Rob Gronkowski, is iffy for the start of the season after forearm and back surgeries this offseason.

It's difficult to imagine Amendola not being heavily targeted right away.

Fitting in quickly

The early reports out of New England have Amendola quickly settling into the Patriots' offense.  ESPN Boston reported during minicamp that he has a "firm grasp" on the playbook and "looks to have developed a rapport with Brady."

Insiders Mike Reiss and Field Yates called Amendola "the best skill player on the field," noting that he looked "quick, shifty, reliable catching the football and fast down the field."  Reiss and Yates confirmed that Amendola will "play a major role in 2013" and "has the makings of a big-time weapon."

Beat writer Nick Underhill was just as impressed.  He called minicamp "Amendola's showcase," adding that his "speed, quickness and solid hands allowed him to pop throughout each session."

It's also worth mentioning that Amendola already has experience in Patriots OC Josh McDaniels' offense.  He worked in McDaniels' system when the 2 were in St. Louis back in 2011.  Although Amendola played in just 1 game that year, he got familiar with the offense during the summer.

McDaniels thinks the prior knowledge will help Amendola settle in quickly.  "I think any time you have a foundation in the system it helps any player get going," McDaniels said. "Some of the things he went through in St. Louis he obviously didn't have to go through again here, which I think helps the process."

2013 Outlook

Our projections for Amendola - 94 catches, 1,135 yards and 6 TDs - are actually well below Welker's Patriot averages.  They factor in Amendola's durability questions and the risk associated with joining a new team.  But even our relatively conservative numbers have him ranked 18th among WRs in non-PPR and 11th in PPR.  Amendola is plenty capable of finishing higher than that if he plays all 16 games.

Considering his talent level, his role as New England's slot receiver and the state of the Patriots' pass-catching corps, all the ingredients are in place for a breakout 2013 season from Amendola.


Honorable Mention:

386.

That's the number of carries our honorable mention breakout pick has handled across 2 college seasons and 1 NFL campaign.  It's a blatantly low number.  But it's a workload he's capitalized on.

That's just 1 reason why we're not afraid to rank Dolphins RB Lamar Miller aggressively. 

As a freshman at the University of Miami, Miller garnered 108 rushes.  He busted off 6 yards per carry along with 6 scores.  Then, starting for the first time as a sophomore, he quickly gained national attention.  The college breakout tallied 1,272 yards on 227 attempts (5.6-yard average), tacking on 9 TDs. 

Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider the shoulder injury he played through.  Miller suffered the injury in September, but he didn't miss a game all season.  You might think it was something minor.  Yet Miller underwent surgery shortly after the season.

As a result, he was red-flagged as a medical risk in the 2012 draft.  That much is understandable, but you have to give him credit for playing - and excelling - through the pain.  The Dolphins were more than happy to grab and develop this potentially explosive runner in Round 4.

Miami already possessed a #1 RB last year.  Reggie Bush surprisingly appeared in all 16 games (for the first time since 2006), leaving Miller with scraps.  The speedy back carried 51 times for 250 yards (4.9-yard average) and 1 score, providing a glimpse of what we see in his future.  He added 6 grabs for 45 yards.

That workload is no longer a concern.  With Bush out of town, Miller is poised to handle all he can.  Some critics may point to current backup Daniel Thomas as a threat, but we simply don't see it.

Through 2 NFL seasons, Miami's former 2nd-round pick hasn't proven a lick.  Slow, indecisive and error prone, the lumbering back has tallied 3.5 yards per carry on 256 chances.  And he's fumbled more times than he's scored (5 to 4).  Not what you're looking for, even in a complementary piece. 

Besides, many around the Dolphins organization already tout Miller, just 22, as the starter.  Count QB Ryan Tannehill among them.

"Lamar Miller [is our starter] right now," Tannehill said in June. "He's doing a great job this offseason, really has a great handle on the offense and he's doing a great job protecting ... They can (all) run the ball but being able to understand the pass game, understand the check-downs and where they're protecting really makes a big difference and makes me more comfortable." 

HC Joe Philbin shared similar thoughts at the conclusion of OTAs, saying he thought Miller, "has really progressed from a mental standpoint."  It's clear all the offseason work he put into pass protection has paid off.

Miller's also looking to improve his elusiveness.  He's become workout partners with Frank Gore, training twice a day in North Miami Beach.  Gore's long been lauded for his work ethic, so it's a perfect match.  The results have been encouraging, too.

Gore noted that Miller's footwork, "got a lot better," adding that he reminds him of a young Clinton Portis.  Of course, Portis posted one of the better rookie seasons for a RB, popping off 1,872 total yards and 17 TDs in 2002.

Workout guru Pete Bommarito, who facilitates the workouts in Miami, was also impressed. 

"Since Lamar started gravitating toward Frank, his work ethic and mentality are unparalleled," he said.  "He's the fastest running back I've ever seen."

The biggest concern for Miller looks like Miami's offensive line.  The unit finished 23rd in Pro Football Focus' 2012 run-blocking rankings and lost LT Jake Long this offseason.  But Long struggled with injuries and ranked just 48th among 80 OTs in run-blocking last year.  Jonathan Martin, Miami's 2012 2nd-round pick, will replace Long this season and might be an upgrade.  Replacing Martin on the right side will be Tyson Clabo, who finished 21st in run-blocking among OTs as a Falcon last year.

This certainly won't be a dominant O-line.  But it might be better than the one that sprung Bush for 4.7 yards per carry over the past 2 seasons.

There's simply an overwhelming amount of momentum in Miller's favor.  And we haven't even mentioned Miami's addition of field-stretchers (and defense-distracters) Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller.  Or that Ryan Tannehill's expected development will take some pressure off the 2nd-year RB.

Miller sits 17th in our RB rankings.  According to My Fantasy League, his ADP is 3.01 in 12-team drafts (all formats) completed since July 1.  He's coming off the board 21st among RBs.  At that price, Miller carries plenty of upside. 

We'll see if he rises up draft boards this summer.  Once the pads go on later this month, we only anticipate stronger performances.  This is a sturdy back (5'10, 218 pounds) with a diverse, dynamic skill-set.  With 275+ touches in sight, Miller is capable of a top-10 finish in 2013.


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