Julian Edelman, as you might have heard, was a college quarterback before he joined the New England Patriots. But for much of his NFL career, the Patriots were hesitant to tap into that aspect of their top receiver’s skill set.
That’s changed in recent years.
In 117 games over his first eight NFL seasons, Edelman attempted exactly one pass: the famed Edelman-to-Danny Amendola double pass that helped sink the Baltimore Ravens in the 2014 divisional round. In his last 17 games, Edelman has attempted four, including one to running back James White on Sunday that set up the Patriots’ first touchdown in their 33-3 pasting of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium.
Edelman also hooked up with White on an identical play last season during a win over the Green Bay Packers. One week later, he completed a pass to Tom Brady on a reverse during a blowout loss to the Tennessee Titans.
The wideout’s lone incompletion to date came in Super Bowl LI when he failed to connect on a deep ball to Dion Lewis. For his career, Edelman is 4-for-5 for 126 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions and boasts a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
Having Edelman throw the ball has yielded positive results for the Patriots. So why did they wait nearly a decade to start using him in that role on a semi-regular basis?
“The first thing is trust,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels explained during a conference call Tuesday morning. “Whenever you’re going to decide to have someone other than Tom throw the ball, I think that’s where you have to start. And you certainly have to feel comfortable with why you’re doing something. We don’t certainly go into each week with those types of things ready to go. It has to be a certain situation or a certain thing that makes you feel good about trying that, otherwise you don’t really want to do that.
“But Julian’s demonstrated an ability to take care of the football and protect it when we ask him to try those things, and that’s just as important as making it go by throwing a good pass and getting a productive play — what happens when the play isn’t necessarily good? You have to trust the person that you’re handing the ball to or throwing it to to make a good decision. So any time we do that, it has to start with — no matter who it is — they have to do a good job of taking care of the football, and he’s done a decent job of that.”
Had he not missed the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL, Edelman might have even more pass attempts on his record. The two passes Amendola threw that year — one to Lewis in the AFC Championship Game and another that bounced off Brady’s hands in Super Bowl LII — came on the same trick plays Edelman has run a total of three times over the past two seasons.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images