Last season, the New England Patriots finally figured out how to best use Julian Edelman, but he broke his foot just when he had found his groove with the Patriots. Edelman hit the free agent waters in the offseason, but the only team to work him out was the New York Giants. His workout with the Giants yielded nothing, and that’s what happens when you are coming off of a broken foot and suffer a setback on it. The Patriots gladly re-signed Edelman to a cheap, one-year deal, and he is the only wide receiver returning from last season to catch a single pass.
Julian Edelman caught 21 passes last season in nine games, which is really nothing to tout. However, the real intrigue with Edelman comes when you look at his numbers in November, because that’s when the Patriots cut him loose. His performances against the Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets were coming-out parties for Edelman, as he hauled in five receptions for 58 yards against the Colts with a touchdown, and he also had a huge game against the Jets with two catches for 64 yards (including a very long touchdown reception that beat every Jets DB).
The key to Edelman’s sudden success later on in the season was his improved long speed, and that’s something both the team and fans have taken note of. Edelman is excellent on punt returns, and he seemed to improve in that regard about the same time as his breakout games against the Jets and Colts.
Going into the 2013 season, Edelman is a breakout candidate if he can stay healthy, because he showed genuine improvement last season and is a player in a position for a bigger and better role with the team. It seems to me that the Patriots have put a finger on how to use him, and he finished with a more efficient season than Brandon Lloyd did. Edelman had a higher success rate (a stat that measures based on down and distance), more yards per target (7.3 vs. 7.0), and a higher catch rate (65.6%-56.5%). Was he better than Lloyd? No, but he was undoubtedly more efficient and about as good as Lloyd on a per-play basis.
What Edelman needs to prove to the Patriots is that he can stay healthy, because he only played in nine games last season due to a broken hand injury in the first-half of the game against the Baltimore Ravens and a broken foot that he sustained against the Miami Dolphins. In fact, the only reason why Edelman’s roster spot isn’t guaranteed is due to his health, because he will be going into training camp with a setback on his previously broken foot. It should be healed by now, but the injury underscores the fact that Edelman consistently struggles with staying healthy. It’s a shame too, because he showed real improvement and ability last season.
I have found that the biggest misconception with Julian Edelman is that people believe he is a slot receiver. There is no way a guy who gets injured as often as he does (and these aren’t those insanely severe Danny Amendola injuries that come from crushing hits either), should be subject to the beatings that a guy like Wes Welker took on a regular basis in the slot. Heck, the Patriots didn’t even use Edelman in the slot much last season, especially since their experiment with Edelman in the slot at the beginning of the year failed. Edelman is not a slot receiver, he doesn’t have the skill-set of a slot receiver, and it’s also a waste to put him in the slot. If they do that, then they wouldn’t be taking advantage of Edelman’s improved long speed. As we saw against the Jets and Colts, Edelman has playmaking ability and is a guy who should be used around the formation in various routes.
He’s a guy who can play inside and outside by stretching the seam in the slot, catching defenses off-guard, playing in bunch formations (bunch Amendola and Edelman together and see how defenses react on that side of the formation), and just spreading the field both vertically and horizontally. Edelman isn’t a true playmaker, but he did score four touchdowns in two games. The Patriots should still use him on short routes, but he shouldn’t be restricted to those kinds of passes as he was early in his career. Edelman is faster than that, and he’s the kind of guy who should be used all over the place; the Patriots should take advantage of his versatility inside, outside, short, middle, and deep.
Even though health is a concern, I have Julian Edelman as a lock to make the 53-man roster. There is no way the Pats cut the only guy who caught a pass for them last season among the WRs, especially since he showed something unique last season, improved last season, and is on a cheap, no-risk deal for just one season. It’s time for Edelman to stay healthy and show off what he has on this one-year deal. It’s kind of sad to think about it this way, but his career might depend on it.