By: Steve Balestrieri
Julian Edelman had a breakout season in 2013 but for the Patriots offense to be successful in 2014, the production needs to be spread out. (USA TODAY Images)
Julian Edelman had a breakout year in 2013 for the New England Patriots catching 105 passes for 1056 yards and six touchdowns as well as fulfilling his normal duties as a punt returner. Now many are wondering if he can duplicate his production in 2014 as Tom Brady’s go-to guy in the Patriots offense.
If you’re the New England Patriots or a Pats fan the short answer is… you don’t want him to. As crazy as that sounds it will make more sense farther below.
Edelman nearly doubled his catches for his career and in a contract year, cashed in signing a four year deal worth $19 million with $8 million guaranteed including a signing bonus of $5 million. He was Brady’s and the team’s most reliable receiver all season and did the dirty work across the middle and in traffic.
With Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez all gone and Rob Gronkowski missing the first six weeks of the season, the Patriots pass receivers were a sea of new faces. Danny Amendola was signed as a free agent and rookies Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins were trying to learn the offense and find some comfort level with the playbook and the meticulous Brady.
The rookies struggled at the outset of the season but began to find their way as the season reached its midway point before all suffered injuries themselves that slowed their progression. Gronkowski returned and for a while the offense was clicking scoring at a rate even higher than Denver’s.
But Gronkowski suffered another serious injury, this time to his ACL and was lost for the season, leaving Brady to soldier on in the playoffs throwing to Austin Collie, Matthew Slater and Matthew Mulligan. The only constant in 2013 was Edelman and he delivered, all season and is now Brady’s most trusted wide out on the roster.
But if Edelman were to catch over 100 passes again in 2014, it would mean that the other receivers weren’t increasing their own production and those numbers wouldn’t be a good sign for the offense.
Amendola Injury Derail 2013: Danny Amendola was hurt in Buffalo in Week 1 and played thru pain for the remainder of the season. He starred in training camp and was Brady’s safety blanket while Edelman was recovering from off-season surgery.
Amendola gets high marks for toughness as playing through a torn groin muscle that had come away from the bone had to be highly painful. Still his numbers of 54 receptions for 633 yards weren’t what the Patriots were looking for in 2013. He is healthy and once again is finding his chemistry with Brady. Both he and Edelman were seen working on the side with Brady on goal line situations this week.
More Size Added: One thing that’s always been lacking in the New England passing game was size, last year’s drafted netted Dobson, the 6’3 wideout from Marshall who caught 37 passes as a rookie and is expected to produce much more going forward into year two. Dobson who’s recovering from off-season foot surgery is projected to be the team’s “X” wide receiver and be that player who can stretch the field vertically or horizontally.
The team signed free agent Brandon Lafell from the Carolina Panthers. Lafell, the fifth year player from LSU is 6’2 and can play inside, outside or out of the slot. Lafell has struggled at times during his career but caught 49 passes in 2013 and could become a valuable option in the Patriots medium passing game. These two coupled with the return of a healthy Gronkowski will give Brady plenty of size to utilize, especially in the red zone.
Rise From 2nd Year Players: One player who was basically red-shirted in 2013 was WR Josh Boyce. Boyce the 2nd year player from TCU was a 4th round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and was being looked at to provide some speed and athleticism to the wide receiving core.
Boyce produced ridiculous numbers at the NFL Combine last season taking into consideration he did it with a broken toe. A 4.38 time in the 40, 22 reps on the bench press, a vertical leap of 34 inches and a three-cone time of 6.68 speak well of his athleticism and speed.
Boyce was hurt early in the summer and it hurt his development, he dropped down the depth chart and later in the season flashed somewhat before suffering another injury that ultimately ended his season. But now healthy and comfortable in the 2nd year inside the system, Boyce has shined thus far in the spring, showing patience on the field and knowing when to flash his speed. He’s primed for a much larger role in the offense.
Thompkins was the surprise of last spring and summer workouts. The UDFA from Cincinnati came out of nowhere and turned heads. He seemed destined for a big season before hitting a lull in mid-season and falling into the doghouse somewhat and then he too was bit by the injury bug that curtailed his season.
Overall 2013 was a mixed bag for Thompkins but he produced 32 catches for 466 yards as a rookie. He too is healthy and comfortable in the offense and in the limited view of what has been seen in the OTAs thus far this spring, is shining again as he tries to improve in that big second year jump that coach Bill Belichick always speaks about.
In a perfect world, all six of these wide receivers will be healthy and productive in 2014. While that may not be the case especially in terms of health it is important to note that if these other wide outs and Gronkowski are on the field and in tune with Brady, it will allow the Patriots to spread the ball around in a variety of different formations and matchups. Each brings to the table a certain skill set that can be utilized against an opponent depending on situations and mismatches.
With that in mind, if they all increase their production in 2014, which is not only entirely possible but expected, then what would be a good year from Julian Edelman? In that case would a season of 65-75 catches be looked upon as a disappointment? Hardly… in fact that is what the Patriots are hoping for.
Brady has always been at his best when spreading the ball around to a variety of receivers, these six wideouts with Gronk and a healthy backfield of Shane Vereen and James White catching the ball on screens should offer them plenty of opportunities to do just that.
A season of 100+ catches for Edelman in 2014 wouldn’t be a good sign for the Patriots offense. Sometimes the stats don’t tell the whole story, and if he is part of a varied offense where everyone is productive and no one has eye popping stats, the team will be better off for it come January.
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