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It's not a stretch to suggest that Julian Edelman saved the Patriots offense last season. Amid the ruins of a depleted receiving corps, Edelman took the biggest opportunity of his career and turned in positively Welkerian numbers: 105 receptions, 1,056 yards and six touchdowns.
Edelman's slot numbers were even more impressive. With 54 receptions on 73 targets from the slot, Edelman's 74 percent catch rate was the fourth-best mark in the league last season.
After re-upping in New England, Edelman is no longer a secret. The Patriots have flipped over their offensive philosophy numerous times in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era but one constant has been the importance of the slot receiver. From Troy Brown to Deion Branch to Wes Welker and now Edelman, every Pats offense has employed a durable and reliable chain-mover to catalyze the passing game.
Edelman's talent is now undeniable, but the former stipulation might cause some anxiety. Until last year, the diminutive receiver had never played 16 games in a season, even in a much more limited role. His injury history has mostly consisted of nagging ailments all across the body—since 2009, Edelman has had ankle, forearm, hand, back, foot, thigh, concussion and thigh issues scattered across the years.
In some ways, it's almost more concerning that Edelman has experienced steady attrition rather than a couple of freak injuries. For a cross-sport comparison, ex-Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury earned much derision for his frailty, but apart from a pair of catastrophic rib and shoulder injuries, his health record is actually fairly spotless.
Thus, there's a possibility that 2013 was the outlier, and that Edelman is simply not built to play such a punishing position. He should be productive when healthy, but until he exhibits durability two years in a row, it's wise to hold off on expecting 16 games.
Projected Stat Line: 12 games, 80 receptions, 815 yards, 4 TDs