The New England Patriots boast the leagues most prolific passing attack through 10 weeks of the NFL season, averaging 338 yards per game through the air. The odds of acquiring one of the key components of Tom Brady’s arsenal mid-season via the wavier wire or a trade would normally be non-existent, however season-ending injuries (from a fantasy perspective) to both wide receiver Julian Edelman and jitterbug running back Dion Lewis are poised to thrust seldom-targeted (and widely available) Danny Amendola into a prominent role for the remainder of the 2015 campaign.
The combination of a pair of once in a generation type talents in both Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski (no stranger to fantasy news) are the foundational pieces to the Patriots offense, but it’s no secret that secret ingredient that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has stirred into the mix in the past three seasons has been Edelman. The 29-year-old former collegiate quarterback was on pace for his third consecutive campaign with at least 92 receptions (61 for 692 yards) and had already established a new career-high with seven touchdowns this season before breaking his foot in a win over the Giants last weekend.
The sudden loss of a seemingly indispensable core performer in Edelman comes right on the heels of another devastating injury to another crucial member of the offensive nucleus, Lewis, who racked up 36 receptions for 388 yards and a pair of touchdowns in just seven games before tearing his left ACL in Week 9 against Washington. Even if an opposing defense possessed the personnel to match up one-on-one against Gronkowski and Edelman simultaneously, which seldom occurred this season, they still had to contend with Lewis as a faster, shiftier, more elusive version of Shane Vereen, an exotic specialist whose prodigious pass-catching prowess talent failed to translate into tangible fantasy numbers throughout his Patriots career.
It’s one thing to wax poetically about the matchup nightmare the trio possessed, but that doesn’t change the reality that both Edelman and Lewis, who accounted for 138 targets (16.84 targets per game) combined this season. While opposing defenses will be able to commit extra attention to shutting down Gronkowski, they will still have to contend with Amendola, who has been fantastic in a complementary role since last postseason. It’s tempting to suggest that Brandon LaFell, Scott Chandler, James White or newly inked Robert Turbin will play an increased role stepping up to replace Edelman and Lewis, but the only weapon with the talent step and experience to fill the slot receiver role over the middle of the field is Amendola.
When the Patriots were looking to replace Wes Welker via free agency following the 2012 season, it was Amendola, not Edelman, who the team allocated a big chunk of change to bring in (Edelman eventually re-signed after only the Giants expressed interest in signing him). After looking like a misfit piece to the puzzle for the better part of two years, Amendola has shined not only on special teams, but as one of Brady’s trusted weapons on the offense as well this season, reeling in an impressive 40 of 48 targets (4.4 targets per game) for 403 yards and a pair of scores.
After Edelman exited against the Giants last weekend, the former Ram was targeted a season-high 11 times, catching 10 passes for 79 yards. It’s unreasonable to expect him to replicate Edelman’s production entirely by himself, but he has the talent to fill the exact same role on the offense, something that can’t be said about cloning Lewis as a receiving threat out of the backfield.
Based on what we witnessed this past weekend and what we know about Edelman and Lewis’ targets per game prior to their injuries, fantasy owners should feel confident projecting Amendola for approximately 10-12 targets per game. To put that target-share in perspective, the only still-active wide receivers to average that many targets (or more) on a per game basis are DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr, Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall, Allen Robinson and Calvin Johnson.
On sheer volume (and talent) alone, Amendola should produce like a legitimate top 15-20 fantasy wide receiver the rest of the way in point-per-reception formats. If you’re looking to pick up an elite wide receiver for the stretch run or a potential playoff push without paying an elite sticker price on one of the aforementioned options, Amendola makes sense as the perfect target.
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