FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Danny Amendola heard the comparisons when he joined the New England Patriots.
He was taking over at slot receiver for the player with the most catches in the NFL over any six-season span. Could he even come close to matching Wes Welker’s production?
“I don’t really think about it too much,” Amendola says. “I’ve been watching Wes for 10, 12 years. It’s old news.”
Amendola will be watching Welker again Sunday night when the Denver Broncos’ leading receiver faces his former team for the first time since both changed sides as free agents.
Welker has 61 catches and nine touchdown receptions and is listed as probable after suffering a concussion in last Sunday night’s 27-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Amendola has just 29 receptions with one touchdown and missed four games with a groin injury and a concussion. But he’s played in the last three games with 13 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown.
“I feel really good right now,” Amendola said. “I’m really amped up.”
The comparison with Welker is hardly surprising.
“You should have heard it when I was in college,” Amendola said.
It goes back to his days at Texas Tech, where he was a freshman the season after Welker’s last year there. Both were outstanding receivers in college. Both returned punts. Both were under 6 feet tall.
So where was Amendola asked more questions about Welker, in college or the pros?
“About equal,” he said.
Welker holds the record for most career receptions at Texas Tech. Amendola has the mark for most by a senior.
But neither was drafted.
Welker signed as a rookie free agent with the San Diego Chargers in April 2004 and lasted just one game before being waived and picked up by the Miami Dolphins. Amendola spent his rookie season in 2008 on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, then joined the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad for the postseason.
Both have come a long way since.
Welker caught 672 passes with the Patriots, with more than 110 in five of his six seasons. With the St. Louis Rams, Amendola had 85 receptions in 2010 and 63 in 2012 when he missed five games with injuries. He caught five passes in the 2011 opener, then missed the rest of the season with an elbow injury.
Amendola got off to a promising start with the Patriots when he caught 10 passes in the season-opening 23-21 win over the Buffalo Bills. Playing with a groin injury, he had three receptions on the drive that led to Stephen Gostkowski’s winning 35-yard field goal with 5 seconds left.
Amendola missed the next three games, but Julian Edelman, who had backed up Welker, stepped in with 27 catches in that span.
“They’ve done a great job this year, both of those guys,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “Danny was injured … but Julian really filled in, was a huge presence on our team. His leadership ability in the locker room, his work ethic, his practice habits were all great things from a veteran player.
“He’s done a great job. Danny’s done a great job. We’re getting contributions from everybody at this point.”
They’ll need it Sunday night against the NFL’s best offense with quarterback Peyton Manning and four dangerous pass catchers.
“Wes is a great player,” Amendola said. “I’ve been watching Wes since I was in high school. He’s done a lot of things for the slot position and it’s exciting to watch his career progress.”
But he brushes off the comparisons. He’s focusing on his own progress in the Patriots’ new-look passing attack with Edelman and rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins.
“They definitely have weapons with Amendola in the slot,” Broncos cornerback Chris Harris said. “They’re kind of using him like Welker.”
And there’s another similarity between the receivers: Brady.
Amendola learned quickly how good his new quarterback is during organized team activities in May.
“He darted me in the chest with one ball,” Amendola said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this guy can really wing it.’ ”