New England Patriots: 5 Expectations for Julian Edelman in 2012
A little bit of everything.
But his positional flexibility has hindered his impact as a wideout. Will that change moving forward?
Here is the forecast for Edelman's upcoming campaign.
A Lock for the 53-Man Roster
Julian Edelman may not be the most gifted wide receiver on the Patriots, but that won't stop him from making the final roster.
Edelman's name is squeezed in among the likes of Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch, Donte' Stallworth, Matthew Slater, Jeremy Ebert, Britt Davis and Jesse Holley.
In that deep receiving corps, he's a forgotten commodity.
Although, his multifaceted talents make him hard to cut loose. He's a receiver, a defensive back, an ex-quarterback, a returner and a special teams contributor.
Guys like Edelman are a rarity in the NFL because they save roster spots, as Mike Rodak of ESPNBoston.com explains:
While Deion Branch or Donte' Stallworth, who likely will also be fighting for a spot as a fourth receiver, don't offer much by way of special teams, Edelman brings value to the 46-man gameday active roster by contributing in all three phases of the game.
Due to his utility, Edelman should be a sure bet to make the 53-man squad.
Edelman Keeps Punt Return Title
Julian Edelman has been returning punts for the Patriots since he was a rookie. In Foxborough, his shiftiness has been embraced and he's stood out as a special teams creator.
But New England was slotted a mediocre 16th in punt return average in 2011, per NFL.com.
Edelman did his best to spark drives on punt returns. He posted a 10.6-yard average, which tied him for 13th in the league, according to ESPN.com. And for the second consecutive season, he collected a punt return touchdown.
However, he's got to assert himself this preseason to hold his ground.
ESPNBoston.com's Reiss discussed the notables who were getting looks in practice on August 3:
All three punt returners—Julian Edelman, Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez —muffed an attempt. Hernandez's came when he tried to catch the ball over his head. Not a good day for the returners.
The fact that starting tight end Aaron Hernandez and starting wide receiver Wes Welker were fielding punts is intriguing to say the least. Plugging in elite receivers on special teams isn't the safest strategy.
Nonetheless, head coach Bill Belichick and special teams coach Scott O'Brien are doing their due diligence. Expect Edelman to hold the punt returner reins for at least another season.
Edelman Loses the Kick Return Job
Julian Edelman has returned 23 kicks in three NFL seasons—good for a 22.8 average.
Yet in 2011, the team painfully finished 29th in kick return average, according to NFL.com.
Edelman was involved in 12 of those reps, reaching a return long of 37 yards, as kickoffs moved forward five yards.
Will he hold onto the returner job? Well, the Kent State product has some competition in training camp.
According to Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe, wideout Donte' Stallworth, cornerback Kyle Arrington and tailback Danny Woodhead have all tried their luck kick returning. ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss included scatback Shane Vereen in that list as well.
Reiss offered up a potential winner for the kick return job:
Storyline to monitor. Danny Woodhead as the top kickoff returner. He was paired with Shane Vereen on the top unit Sunday, as the Patriots didn't pursue a different option this offseason.
Edelman expressed his outlook on the return battle to the Globe's Benbow in late July:
"I'm sure there's other guys doing the same thing, and competition, it makes you better. If you're afraid to compete then you're in the wrong business."
He may be confident in his prowess, yet the kick return role seems to be slipping away.
Edelman Won't Play a Down at Defensive Back
Last season, New England's depleted secondary forced the ready and willing Edelman to play defensive back.
New England's pass coverage was riddled with injuries. Lesser-known men like Antwaun Molden, Phillip Adams and Nate Jones were brought in to patch things up.
Still, Edelman's positional capabilities were needed.
Fortunately, that won't be the case in 2012.
The Patriots have 2010 first-round pick Devin McCourty as well as 2011 second-round choice Ras-I Dowling back and healthy. Meanwhile, Sterling Moore and Kyle Arrington have big-play potential. Even veteran corner Will Allen and rookie Alfonzo Dennard could be focal points down the stretch.
Thanks to these DBs, Edelman can turn his focus to the offensive game.
The Boston Globe's Julian Benbow reports that Edelman hasn't taken any defensive snaps in training camp this summer.
If everything goes as planned, he won't have to.
No Breakout Year as a Receiver
Julian Edelman has looked impressive as a route runner in training camp, but ESPNBoston.com's Field Yates saw both the good and the bad:
"Receiver Julian Edelman has been a bright spot for the Patriots throughout training camp, running precise routes and making defenders miss with regularity. But he has experienced some struggles catching the football, particularly outside of his frame and under duress."
Even if the 6'0, 198-pound target didn't drop a pass this training camp, he would still be hard-pressed to establish himself in the offensive gameplan this year.
Those four pass-catchers amassed 361 receptions last season. Unless an unthinkable injury hits Welker, there is little room for Edelman to produce.
Edelman snagged 37 passes for 359 yards and a touchdown in 2009. Yet over the last two seasons, the 26-year-old has hauled in just 11 passes for 120 yards.
With that in consideration, it would be a pleasant surprise to see Edelman exceed the 20-catch threshold in 2012.