The numbers Edelman gives to the Patriots are difficult to replicate, but that’s the least of what they’ll miss in 2017.
New England’s worst fears came to life Saturday morning when Adam Schefter confirmed that Julian Edelman tore his ACL. Even for a team that is as loaded on paper as the Patriots, they now have to find a way to fill in for their top target on offense.
Let’s stop and think, what are the Patriots really missing with Edelman done for the year? Nearly a hundred receptions last year, over 1,000 yards receiving, 11 whole yards per reception? As great as those numbers are, they are replaceable, to an extent. With Tom Brady again playing QB and a solid offensive line that’s poised to be better, the Patriots can make do on that front with a lesser slot receiver.
It’s difficult not to think about who will be there on third and long when a play is breaking down and there’s nobody else open. Nine times out of ten, Julian Edelman is getting a laser to his chest and it’s going in his gloves. In the four years Edelman has been the top slot receiver, he’s had catch percentages of 69.5%, 68.7%, 69.3%, and 61.3%. That’s the guy you wanna throw to with the game on the line.
Then there is the impact that Edelman brings to the team that is difficult to quantify: the trust that Garoppolo built with him in the short time he played, the assurance he brings to a quarterback when all else fails. Brady even took to Instagram today to call Edelman a “gladiator.” It’s clear there’s a strong bond on and off the field.
And then, of course, the top quality a good Belichickian slot receiver requires, toughness. The former Kent State quarterback earned his opportunity through his excellent work as a return man. The lessons he learned are present each time Edelman wraps his gloves around a pass: know your position, get in position, look for a block, look straight ahead, catch and hold on to that effing ball even if your head comes clean off afterward.
He is vocal, larger than life, but not a primadonna like the other wide receivers whom he tops on the leaderboards. Edelman was never thought to be a sure pro. Never showered with praise since his teenage years like AJ Green. Never heavily recruited out of high school like Julio Jones. Never given hands of Odell Beckham Jr., or the robotic length of Calvin Johnson. He was not a first-round pick like any of those guys; he was a 7th rounder. They never faced the hurdles that Edelman did for his spot on the depth chart. He’s still called Minitron, though.
Edelman’s case is why many of the best slot receivers are undrafted or drafted in the late rounds: these are the guys willing to work their way to the top. He recognizes that he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth like those who went ahead of them, but that doesn’t mean anything once the door opens. His story is all too similar to the guy who throws to him, but Edelman did not get the 6’4 body that Tom Brady did. Sadly, what he brings to the New England Patriots can only be fully understood and appreciated when 11 isn’t out there playing.
He’s on the wrong side of 30 now, but good luck to Father Time in trying to slow Edelman down. Even after all he’s given to the Patriots in his four and a half seasons, Edelman knows that he too is replaceable. After all, that’s how he got his foot in the door the first time. The Patriots are full of overlooked players, but it remains to be seen who can bring what Edelman brings to the field every day.