FOXBORO, Mass. — It’s amazing to think that just two years ago, Julian Edelman was playing cornerback in an AFC Championship Game.
For the first four years of Edelman’s career, he was the do-everything, fill-in guy. When Wes Welker tore his ACL in Edelman’s rookie season, Edelman was the fill-in slot receiver. When the Patriots didn’t want to risk Welker returning punts anymore, Edelman became the punt returner. When no one stood out returning kicks, Edelman took on those duties, as well.
And after the Patriots had suffered a ludicrous number of injuries in the secondary, he had to play seven games (125 total snaps, including playoffs) at cornerback. He was pretty good at it, too. According to Pro Football Focus’ metrics, Edelman was first in cover snaps per reception among cornerbacks with 50 snaps, second in yards per cover snap and third in cover snaps per target. Those stats essentially mean that Edelman was rarely targeted when he was on the field.
Edelman doesn’t think about those days anymore. He’s more focused on his task at hand.
“Just when you guys ask that kind of stuff,” Edelman said. “But it’s such a grind here that legitimately, I don’t even know who we’re playing next week. Because you’re so focused on your task. Our task right now is Miami Dolphins. A very, very, very, very good team who’s been playing good. They’ve won four of their last six. A defense that’s very stout, very good. Got some DBs that have been playing very well. Got some good team chemistry. That’s the majority of what I’ve been focusing on.”
Edelman can change the subject all he wants, but those seasons in 2010 and 2011 are what is making his 2013 so incredible. He became the forgotten man once Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski came around and New England focused on a tight end-heavy offense. Edelman had just seven catches for 86 yards in 2010 and four catches for 34 yards in 2011. Now he’s on pace for 954 yards on 94 receptions.
The most impressive aspect of Edelman’s game is just how in sync he appears to be with Tom Brady. Brady has dubbed his most-targeted receiver “Minitron,” after “Megatron” Calvin Johnson. Edelman was a butt of Brady’s jokes earlier in the season when the quarterback called him a spaz. It helps that Brady and Edelman’s lockers are side by side.
The two’s relationship off the field appears to be helping them on it too. Edelman has caught 76 of 110 targets from Brady for a 69.1-percent catch rate. That’s some Welker-Brady-level chemistry. That’s not just on throws near the line of scrimmage, either. Edelman has spent half his season playing out wide, where he’s expected to run deeper routes. He’s catching 71.4 percent of passes Brady’s throws from 10-19 yards downfield. Welker’s best catch percentage on those targets was 66 percent in 2011. Last season, Welker caught just 53.8 percent of those throws.
Edelman deflected any queries about he and his quarterback’s connection to Brady, though.
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask Tom on that. He’s the quarterback,” Edelman said. “I just try to get open, catch the ball and execute my assignments. He usually finds the open receiver and if you do your job, he’ll find you.”
Brady has found Edelman nearly twice as often as he’s found any other target on the Patriots. Edelman has 76 grabs on the season while Rob Gronkowski is next highest with 39. Obviously Gronkowski’s health, or lack there of, plays into that, but that’s another impressive aspect of Edelman’s game.
Through the Patriots’ season, there has been questions about Brady’s play, the defense, injuries and players who, for one reason or another, didn’t stay with New England from 2012 to 2013. Edelman, along with Brady, has been the mainstay on offense all year.
Gronkowski, Shane Vereen, Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins have suffered injuries. Edelman, who had been considered an injury risk in the past, has been the constant for Brady.
Edelman leads Patriots offensive skill-position players in total snaps. Despite signing a deal for 1/26th the amount of money as Amendola this offseason, Edelman is finding the field more frequently than the Patriots’ high-priced free agent, even when both players are healthy.
Edelman only signed a one-year deal this offseason, so his break-out performance should pay off for him when free agency comes up. Given Brady and Edelman’s increasing chemistry, it would be wise for New England to pay up this time around.