Many players have become unexpectedly important to this year's Patriot's team this off-season. The departures of Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, coupled with the health problems for Rob Gronkowski, and incarceration of Aaron Hernandez, has left the offense wide open. Together, these occurences have thrust a number of players into the spot light as important pieces to a consistently dominant offensive unit.
|Edelman after returning a punt for a TD last season vs. the Colts|
At the forefront of that group are receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman. The two share many similarities. They are both small, dynamic receivers who typically come out of the slot position but can play on the outside as well. Many also believe that while each may not be as tough as Wes Welker, they have the potential to be more explosive playmakers.
NFL.com writer Gregg Rosenthal wrote a great piece on whether or not Edelman can "make the leap" in the upcoming season, where he has an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to the offense. In the article, Rosenthal highlights Edelman's versatility and skill set in comparison to Wes Welker:
Edelman is not Welker. He's not as durable or reliable, but Edelman also is far more explosive. He can play inside and out, and knows what Tom Brady looks for. In a two-game stretch last season, Edelman had a 56-yard receiving touchdown, a 68-yard punt return touchdown, a 47-yard run and a 49-yard punt return. (He also threw in a forced fumble on special teams and returned a fumbled kickoff for a score.)
What Rosenthal also emphasizes is that Edelman is not durable. Far from it in fact. When on the field, Edelman has been fantastic and added a new element to the offense and special teams. From time to time he has even proven to be a contributor to the team's oft-decimated secondary. His ability to play a number of roles is what makes him such a great fit in the Patriot's system, and is why he has been able to stick around despite the fact that during his time here, he has seemingly spent just as much time in a walking boot as he has a uniform.
Rosenthal later states that this season is the first in which the team truly needs him, and that he could see a "sneaky 800 yard season" out of Edelman. To me, that is a bit of a stretch given his injury history. For the entirety of his career Edelman has been an injury waiting to happen, and he has already had foot issues during OTAs, and may not be ready for camp.
Does Edelman have the talent to rack up 800 yards or more? Yes. But his durability, or lack there of, makes it difficult to make that prediction with any confidence. But with the current state of the team's offense, someone needs to step up. Gronk and Edelman are the only two returning pass catchers who have any career receptions from Brady. And who knows when Gronk will be back.
Any existing chemistry between Edelman and Brady could be extremely valuable as the inevitable adjustment period takes place with the crew of new receivers joining the team this off-season.