Leading up to the first day of training camp, we’re going to look at the most important Patriots, counting down from 10 to 1. Today it's . . .
8. JULIAN EDELMAN
Why? Edelman is a damn good player, better than he gets credit for around the league. I’m not saying he’s Top 10, but when you start looking at the advanced metrics he’s not far off. Tom Brady's QB rating when throwing to Edelman is well over 100. That makes him a trusted performer for Brady in this offense, no matter what the stakes, and Edelman's ability to run with the football is tops on this team, regardless of the position. In short, the dude’s money.
Previous Performance: Edelman was in line for a second straight 100-catch season before being derailed by a late-season injury. But make no mistake, the former college QB was better in year two as “The Man” then he was in the year prior, when he first replaced Wes Welker. He was also a monster in the playoffs: The Pats don’t win the Super Bowl if he doesn’t shrug off a vicious Kam Chancellor hit in the fourth quarter while making a first-down catcher and later, of course, score what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown (as he turned around the DB on the same route on which Brady had overthrown him in the previous series). Add in the fact that Edelman is more than just a slot receiver; he has the speed to get it down outside the numbers. And then add in his game-breaking ability as a punt returner. Put it all together, and you have one of the game's most complete wideouts.
Questions surrounding the player: Can he sustain this pace while taking the slot receiver's beatings? Welker was able to keep it up for five years in this system, becoming arguably the best slot in NFL history, but those kill shots turned Wes into a shell of his former self. Edelman runs many of the same routes and that, to me, is the only thing that could keep him from achieving a similar run of success.
Overall Outlook: I expect a continued high level of production from Edelman. The kid is talented. Tough. A real weapon. Brady will keep looking his way, and I’m certain he’ll keep delivering. A hundred catches or more. A thousand yards or more. Put it down in pen.