By Mark Paulette
If there is one truth with the New England Patriots which I hold self-evident –outside all things his holiness, Tom Brady—it is that Julian Edelman is criminally underrated.
He is not a “system” player, or simply a replaceable cog in the ever-churning, highly functioning machine that is New England’s offense, he is the heartbeat which makes it go.
Tom Brady is the unit’s life force, that statement is not questionable. Without him, the system ceases to function. But even a life force needs assistance to spread its supply and JE11 serves to facilitate that need.
The former college quarterback who was picked in the seventh round of the NFL draft has molded himself, through the semi-stalking of Brady coupled with sheer determination and hard work, into one of the league’s most lethal weapons.
We (ahem, Aaron Jackson) revert to designating Edelman into the same category of the Wes Welker’s of the world; undersized players who carved niches amidst the organized chaos of New England’s offense. Yet in doing such, we overlook the fact that Edelman is more Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski with the ball in his hands than he is comparable to Welker.
It is his explosiveness and his willingness to seek out contact that gives him an ability to turn a seven-yard slant into a 25-yard gain. A fact that separates him from his predecessors at the slot position and a combination which positions Edelman at the top of Brady’s list of greatest targets.
In Edelman’s four years as the featured number one receiver in the Patriots’ offense, Brady has targeted his safety blanket on 24, 25, 25 and 30 percent of all throws with the pair on the field. Only Troy Brown (33% in ’01) and Welker (32% in ’09) have seen greater attention from Brady than Edelman did a year ago. To compare those numbers to the other staple of New England’s offense during JE11’s career, Rob Gronkowski’s high-mark for targets was 130 in 2014, five less than Edelman’s third-best career total.
Edelman’s offensive impact has never been more evident than it was in 2015, when the Patriots posted a 9-0 record and averaged 33.6 points per game with him on the field, both tops in the league. Following the broken foot Edelman suffered in week nine at New York, the Pats went 3-4 over the final seven games and averaged 23.1 points per game, a 10 ½ point drop in production.
Unmeasured in the stats are the trust factor, leadership qualities and clutch abilities which Edelman brings to the table. He elevates his play when it matters most, evident by his 21 catches for 342 yards in last year’s postseason, making him the all-time leading Patriots’ receiver in the playoffs.
Fortunately for the Pats, the loss of Edelman will not be felt as heavily this season as it would have in years past due to the overwhelming depth at both the receiver and running back positions. The next man will step up and the Patriots will still make their march towards a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
But when Brady finds himself under pressure in the pocket, he will not have the same assurance of knowing one person on the field will be exactly where TB12 wants them to be. That one person will put themselves on the line to bail out a rare mistake by the QB (ref. see ‘The Catch’ in Super Bowl 51). It may not seem like much, but it could amount to a crucial sack or a tipped pass that finds its way into the hands of a defender because the receiver made his cut at the 20-yard line as opposed to the 19.7-yard line.
While the visible skills separate Edelman from Danny Amendola and Welker, it’s the intangibles which elevates him above the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Randy Moss. Julian Edelman has quietly managed to become the most valuable weapon that Tom Brady weapon has ever possessed. That truth I hold self-evident, and you should too.
Mark Paulette is the Senior Producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.