We have to do it. It'd be irresponsible to ignore this. One year into Danny Amendola's new contract and one year out of the Wes Welker era in New England.
Julian Edelman's in purgatory.
In what was a hotly contested decision, the Patriots opted to move forward with a younger version of Welker in the 2013 off-season. The only problem was this younger version had many, many more miles on the surgeon's table, and couldn't be trusted to stay healthy.
And yes, there's the easy point when looking at the recent health of the players to say, "If Wes Welker's season-ending injury happened in Week 1, instead of at the end of the season; and if just one of Danny Amendola's historical injuries took place at the end of the year, instead of early on, then both players would have missed the same amount of time over the past few years."
But they didn't. And Danny Amendola tore his groin in Week 1.
Now Welker himself didn't have a healthy season, finding himself concussed and as a role piece in a juggernaut offense. But he was healthier.
And Julian Edelman's still in purgatory.
When we're comparing these players, I've picked up numbers from Pro Football Focus (PFF) and from Football Outsiders (FO), the two authorities on valuing players. We can compare their wide receiver ratings (a counterpart to passer rating), their catch rate (important for slot guys), their production on deep throws (hey, shorties can have deep value), their production in the slot, and their expected value on a per-snap basis. We can also compare their defense-adjusted value over an average player and draw a line between both Welker and Amendola.
And Julian Edelman will remain in purgatory. But he will also be our benchmark.
Julian Edelman led the way with 1038 snaps; Welker had 787, Amendola 581. Edelman actually received the highest score out of the three players and, from a receiving standpoint, it wasn't even close; his receiving score (+10.6) was more than double Welker (+4.8) and quadruple Amendola (+2.3). From the onset, we can see how limited Amendola was for the Patriots; he played half the snaps that Edelman played.
The value of Welker and Amendola came as complementary players, and their blocking was far superior to Edelman, posting +2.4, +2.6, and -3.2 accordingly. Yes, Amendola was rated as the best blocker of the three. Edelman was considered below average.
According to FO and PFF, Edelman led the way on penalties, drawing two flags for 43 yards. Amendola picked up one flag for five yards. Welker picked up one flag for no yards.
From a hard to value standpoint (snaps, penalties, blocking), we see that each player has their own strengths. Edelman's clearly the best of the three, but since he's floating in deep space, we can see Welker and Amendola should fairly similar scores. Push.
Edelman, once again, leads the way for most of the receiving stats.
JE: 146 tgts, 105 rec, 72%, 1056 yds, 10.1 y/r, 6 TD, 1 INT, 103 PR, 1.78 YPRR
WW: 109 tgts, 73 rec, 67%, 778 yds, 10.7 y/r, 10 TD, 3 INT, 106.7 PR, 1.64 YPRR
DA: 82 tgts, 54 rec, 66%, 633 yds, 11.7 y/r, 2 TD, 0 INT, 97.3 PR, 1.70 YPRR
YPRR stands for Yards per Route Run, which is more explained by utilization than ability; don't use the number to see how effective a player is, but instead how much they were utilized when on the field.
Amendola's YPRR actually paints a different picture than what I had expected. While it's blatantly true that Brady ignored him on the field, even if he was wide open, that doesn't do justice to what Amendola added to the offense. He was actually more involved in the Patriots offense, when on the field, than Welker was for the Broncos.
From the raw numbers, we see that Edelman is the most reliable of the three, although his value is marginally reduced by his much, much lower yards per reception.
In fact, we actually see Amendola leading the charge with 11.7 yards per reception. To better account for a player's value to the team, we can see the yards per target, or the average yards gained when thrown at the receiver:
JE: 7.23 Yards per Target
WW: 7.14 YPT
DA: 7.72 YPT
So there's that value. Amendola actually makes the most of his targets, and that's supported by his yards after the catch:
JE: 4.48 YAC
WW: 4.42 YAC
DA: 4.72 YAC
So get the ball in his hands and he's going to make more out of it than either Edelman or Welker. We can also do some basic math to see that because Edelman and Welker's YAC are roughly the same, yet Welker's average yards per reception is over half a yard greater, that the average depth of an Edelman target is half a yard closer to Tom Brady than Welker is to Manning.
No real meaning, but it shows how the playbook is drawn for Brady to get the ball to Edelman as quickly as possible. This half yard could contribute to Edelman's inflated completion rate, but it doesn't paint the whole picture because of drop rates.
JE: 13 drops, 11.02 drop rate
WW: 10, 12.05
DA: 8, 12.9
So that's slightly damning for Amendola. While Edelman ranks 66th out of 94 qualifying receivers, which isn't too great, Wes Welker (76) and Danny Amendola (78) are even worse. You could paint this as the receivers having poor hands, but that actually doesn't do them justice.
While there's always room for improvement, their role on the offense has a lot to do with it. Slot receivers face a high degree of contact and the results support that. Of those ranked in the 75-83 rank (aka: those who surround Amendola and Welker), seven of them are players who see noticeable time out of the slot.
PFF is incredible enough to offer slot numbers:
JE: 294 slot routes (49.5% of total routes), 73 tgts, 54 rec, 74%, 6 drops, 10%, 506 yds, 1.72 YPRR
WW: 400 routes (84.4%), 89 tgts, 57 rec, 64%, 8 drops, 12.3%, 688 yds, 1.72 YPRR
DA: 288 routes (77.4), 67 tgts, 42 recs, 62.7%, 8 drops, 16%, 501 yds, 1.74 YPRR
We learn that Edelman only spent half of his time in the slot, while Amendola was the slot receiver when he was on the field. We see numbers that line Welker with Amendola, while Edelman is slightly above them both.
What should be concerning is Amendola's drop rate in the slot. You'll note that all eight of his drops came on the inside, which leads me to wonder if his skills are being used to their utmost ability. Perhaps he'd be better off changing roles with Edelman, allowing Amendola to play outside 50% of the time. Passes towards Edelman are completed an astonishing 11.3% more than when thrown to Amendola in the slot.
But you'll also note that these comparisons are between Edelman and Amendola. As has been the case in all of these points, Amendola and Welker are fairly aligned in their production.
Edelman is in purgatory.
This purgatory in only in a box, though, and doesn't span down the field. While rating these players on deep balls (targets 20+ yards down the field) doesn't seem fair, if we have the numbers, why not use them?
JE: 15 tgts, 7 catchable, 5 rec, 2 drops, 33.3%, 148 yds
WW: 9 tgts, 4 catchable, 4 rec, 0 drops, 44.4%, 112 yds
DA: 7 tgts, 4 catchable, 3 rec, 1 drops, 42.9%, 112 yds
So you're telling me that the Patriots went with more size at the position and they became less effective at the deep ball? This comes down to Tom Brady having a bizarre season. Four of Brady's receivers are featured in the bottom 30% of the league with regards to drops and this was still a factor on the deep balls.
For whatever reason, the Patriots sent Edelman deep on roughly 10% of his routes, and Welker and Amendola sat comfortably around 8.5%. As a point of reference, roughly 11.5% of Welker's targets in 2012 were of the deep variety, while they were at 6.5% in 2011. So all three players are within an expected range.
But this is just another point to show that there's seriously no difference between Welker and Amendola, apart from health. When both players were on the field, they produced the same amount. And when Welker missed time due to concussions and Amendola was limited due to his groin, nothing changed.
And using FO's DYAR and DVOA supports this. DYAR represents the number of yards a player presents over an average player over the course of the season, while DVOA represents a % value. Essentially, DYAR factors in the player's varying snap counts when evaluating value, while DVOA is the player's value on a per-play basis. Both are values weighted according to the strength of the opposing defenses.
Welker leads the trio with DYAR of 206 (ranked 22nd out of 90), while Edelman counts for 203 (ranked 23rd). Amendola is in the rear, purely because of his lower snap count, with a score of 162 (ranked 27th). Yes, the value of all three players over the course of the season were that similar.
And when looking at their DVOA, you'll be surprised to find Edelman the lowest ranked of the three, at 4.2% (ranked 33rd out of 90). Welker comes in second with 10.7% (ranked 22nd). Amendola comes in first with 12.2% (ranked 21st).
So we find what we had hoped. Amendola and Welker are extremely similar players. On a per-snap level, Amendola is the better player. But because of limiting injuries, Welker's value over the course of the season is greater.
And then there's Edelman. Deserving of a contract greater than both, deserving the spotlight more than both, deserving the appreciation for how good of a receiver he actually is, and how he's not just the latest model in the Patriots slot machine.
But he won't receive that contract. He won't receive that praise. Because in the debate between Amendola and Welker, which can be called a draw, the one true winner won't ever be appreciated.
Because Julian Edelman is in purgatory.