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Watching Danny grow…

That’s Danny as in Amendola…and I know, it’s stupid to cry over spilled Gold… but you have to admit, the Gold Standard of the Philadelphia Eagles scouting division was in full force mode when Danny Amendola was signed as an undrafted free agent coming off the Dallas Cowboys practice squad when he was released in January of 2009.

Danny Amendola was once ours… the 5-10, 185-pound “Wes Welker clone” is now a star slot receiver and punt/kick returner for the St. Louis Rams…

Maybe Danny wasn’t quite ready then…maybe Reggie Brown’s guaranteed contract and good special teams play carried the day. But for whatever reason, Amendola could not crack the active Eagles roster in 2009.

It’s not like Amendola didn’t have a good pedigree. Amendola finished his college career at Texas Tech with 204 receptions for 2,246 yards and 15 TD’s. He also returned 116 punts for 1,283 yards and one TD, an 11.06 yards per return average ranking Amendola third all-time in school history in punt returns and yardage, behind only Wes Welker and Tyrone Thurman.  Amendola’s best year was his senior year, in which he was overshadowed by teammate Michael Crabtree, but still recorded 109 catches for 1,245 yards and 6 TDs.

I still can’t believe he wasn’t drafted in 2008.

Amendola signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys on April 27, 2008. His attempt to make it as an NFL pro was featured on the HBO special Hard Knocks.  Amendola was cut by the Cowboys on August 30 and then re-signed to the team’s practice squad after clearing waivers. He spent the entire 2008 regular season on the Cowboys’ practice squad.

By the way, here are Amendola’s pre-draft measurables in 2008:

Pre-draft measureables
Height Weight 40-yard dash 10-yard split 20-yard split 20 ss 3-cone Vert Broad BP Wonderlic
5-10 * 185 * 4.58 ** 1.51 * 2.65 * 4.25 ** 6.81 ** 31½” * 8’07” * 13 * 27 *
*At NFL Combine **At Texas Tech Pro Day

Enter the Eagles post-draft scouting staff… who had their eye on the guy all along as a development project. After his contract expired with the Cowboys, Amendola was signed to the practice squad of the Eagles on January 6, 2009. Following the end of the regular 2009 season, Amendola was re-signed to a future contract on January 19, 2009. He was waived during final cuts of Training Camp on September 5, 2009. He was re-signed to the Birds’ practice squad on September 6, 2009.

The Eagles held on to Reggie Brown as their ultimate depth chart insurance at WR… but in doing so exposed Danny Amendola to being signed off the PS by another NFL team.

Now jump-cut to the present: in 2010, Amendola, playing for the St. Louis Rams, led the NFL in all-purpose yards with 2,364.

It’s something I have to slap myself in the face in order to comprehend… but it’s true.

I know, it would be easy to grumble about the Eagles personnel evaluators letting Danny get away. But I prefer to think of it as the Eagles Gold Standard at work— yet sometimes, it benefits other teams who believe in it, too.

The Rams knew we had something special in Amendola. We knew they knew, too. It just boiled down to something called “timing”…and something called “immediate opportunity”…

Plus, I’m not sure Amendola would have flourished in the slot position of the passing offense of McNabb in 2009 or Vick/Kolb in 2010… Jason Avant had that role completely sewn up…and even more relevant to Vick’s game, the slot receiver is often a position that is the last option in the Starship list of targets. The Rams’ offensive system featuring young Sam Bradford at QB is tailor-made for Amendola’s game…

Amendola was signed off the Eagles’ practice squad by the St. Louis Rams on September 22, 2009. In 2009, he caught 43 passes for 326 yards and one touchdown as a slot receiver. He returned 66 kicks for 1,618 yards and 31 punts for 360 yards.

Not bad for an undrafted rookie who had to wait an extra year for his big break…

But it got better.

In 2010, Danny snagged 85 catches — 9th best total in the NFL— and picked up 689 yards and 3 TD’s from the slot. He also returned 40 punts for 452 yards, with a long gainer of 42 yards, and he brought back 50 kick returns for 1142 yards and a long gainer of 84 yards.

The future may bode well for Amendola with even greater production numbers, since the Rams have just added new OC (former Denver head coach) Josh McDaniels.  Josh McD might be a terrible head coach, but if there is one thing the guy knows how to do, it is run an offense. After all, he was mentored by one of the greatest offensive minds in the game, Bill Belichick.

McDaniels is keen on throwing the ball. Last year, the Broncos finished 7th in the league in both passing attempts (580) and passing yards (4038). It’s safe to assume that McDaniels is going to employ his pass-first mentality with Bradford’s offense. Again, this only bodes well for Amendola… The new offensive coordinator is also accustomed to utilizing players with skill sets similar to Amendola’s. McD did run New England’s offense when Wes Welker emerged as one of the best slot receivers in the game. Therefore, we can fully expect him to utilize Amendola in a similar fashion. Already, reports of McDaniel’s admiration towards his new slot receiver have surfaced. According to Pro Football Weekly, McDaniels “thinks the world” of Amendola and plans on using him as a key offensive weapon in 2011. If he was able to make Wes Welker a star, I can easily see him doing the same for Amendola.

Not everyone agrees with that picture, however. 

Danny shows tremendous ability to get space against a defender, as well as displaying sticky hands in his receptions. He’s tough, too…you should see the video clip where Danny gets body slammed and bounces back up to have words with Raiders’ LB Rondo McClain.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=oJ0LH_jiCDY#at=29       (http://www.turfshowtimes.com/)

But there are still naysayers in St. Louis, just as there were in Dallas (and dare I say Philly), who just can’t buy into a “Wes Welker”-type receiver as a feature offensive player… and don’t trust what their own eyes tell them about a player like Danny.

Here are some comments harvested from the Rams’ “SB Nation” fansite:

“Danny Amendola, as good a season as he had in 2010, will be fighting for a roster spot in 2011. The Rams drafted some receiving talent and expect to get back Avery and Clayton from injured reserve.”

“I don’t believe he’s that much of value to the Rams. Besides a locker room guy maybe…Poor man’s Welker? At 8 ypc, 43 ypg and 3TD? Not so much. But I like him to be a Steve Tasker type of player for us. Special teams/ PR / gunner- kinda guy. Not much more.”

“Those kick/punt return averages are below average for NFL standards. And the YPC would be considered laughing stock material…
 He’s got good hands,  I KNOW he’s giving 100%, but that does not pay the rent. Production does. And he was the #1 WR in Shurmur’s offense and he wasn’t worth squat. And sorry, but Amendola ain’t gonna be catching balls for us this year…not many at least. And I loved the end-arounds too, but they were fun cause we didn’t have any good WRs to throw to…”

“You do not build a team around him unfortunately. He will be a role player in the slot, but I see Salas taking his place— purely because Danny’s contract will expire soon, and Salas is likely to have a longer one. They have similar skill sets, except Salas is bigger and faster… but not as versatile (something we really like)… although Danny should hopefully be replaced on return duty by Baker, who has home run speed.”

“All in all I’m gonna root for Danny, and I’m sure he’ll get a lot of support from Sam Bradford, but his long-term future with us looks bleak with the drafting of Salas, which is a shame because Danny showed some skill and a TON of heart last year.”

“I like the guy, but if not for how bad our WR corps was, he wouldn’t have had them numbers. He’s like the best of a bad situation. I think he’s a good player and he worked his ass off, but I don’t think he’s that great.”

Man, and they say Philly fans are tough on their players?!!

Well, here’s what I think as a Philly guy who’d love to have Amendola back for a combination of reasons:

Let’s see: End-arounds Rushing = 81 yards gained… 11.6 YPA, 7 Att…
Receiving = 8.1 YPC, 85 catches…
KO returns = 22.8 YPA on 50 returns…
Punt returns = 11.3 YPA on 40 returns…

I will take that production anywhere.

More importantly, Amendola has developed a rapport with a franchise QB.  Bradford trusts him and often times looks to him as a safety blanket when there is nothing else. I’m all for that kind of communication between a receiver and a QB.

To me, when you are lucky enough to find a player like Danny, you find a way to make him the weapon you need. A great coach knows that tough, overachieving players like Amendola are the rarest of breeds. Amendola is that intrinsic “part” that every championship team has on its roster. Add big star talents? Sure thing. But don’t forget what joins muscle to bone— and Danny is that sinew. He won’t complain about lack of this or that, but when he takes the field, the other team will know they have a little SOB to deal with… And I’d like to see a little more of that personality trait in the Eagles offense.

I really think Danny is just as good, if not better, than Welker. All he needs is the right supporting cast, which he did not have last year. I think some fans may be forgetting Amendola has less than two full years on an active roster. Welker did not even get the attention Danny is getting now until his 4th year (when he went to NE from Miami).

Danny wasn’t meant to be on the field as much as he was in 2010, but injuries forced Spags and Shurmur to expand Amendola’s role, and he answered the call with his best effort. No one disputes that there are flashier players to be had, yet when the fur starts to fly and players go down, it is a “quality problem” to have Danny Amendola to call upon. I wouldn’t doubt at one point if the Rams thought about him for the D-secondary last year, and if they had asked him, he would have run onto the defensive side of the field.

The kind of player Amendola is can’t be limited to a single position so much as the ability to fill a need when the chips are down. In this ability, he far exceeds anyone I’ve seen on the Rams in almost a decade.  He’s earned my respect and will most likely fill a big part in the Rams returning to winning football. Amendola’s personal love of the game and his courageous heart mean a lot to a team. Even at the NFL level… which is a big reason I often wish he had never gotten away from the Eagles.