Julian Edelman enjoyed the celebration around the Patriots’ most recent Super Bowl title. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
As the countdown to training camp begins later this month, we’re looking at the 20 most important members of the Patriots heading into 2016.
3. Wide receiver Julian Edelman
Weight: 198 pounds
Age: 30 (will turn 31 on May 22)
Resume: A seventh-round pick out of Kent State in 2009, the former college quarterback has become one of the most trusted receivers Tom Brady has ever had. He impressed as a rookie with 37 catches, but it truly took him a few years to evolve as a receiver. He eventually found his footing in 2013, following the departure of Wes Welker — with the loss of Welker in free agency, the door was open, and Edelman kicked it down. In the last three years, he’s caught 258 passes and 17 touchdowns, one of just nine pass catchers who has topped at least 250 receptions in that stretch. (His career year came in 2013, when he finished with 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns.) He’s also managed to carve out an impressive career as a punt returner — Edelman has a 12.0 career punt return average, third in the NFL since the 1970 merger. (Only Rick Upchurch and Devin Hester at 12.1 yards per return are better.) In addition, he has four punt returns for touchdowns, most in franchise history.
Why we ranked him here: When it comes to the Patriots, “Minitron” is the latest in a long line of slightly undersized pass catchers who have distinguished themselves as Brady’s favorites for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they usually have an outstanding catch rate, quality yards after the catch and make guys miss on a consistent basis. No one moves the chains quite like Edelman, who has an astounding chemistry with the quarterback that allows him to make plays that no one else on the roster can make. His status will bear watching this summer because he was in and out of a walking boot this offseason, and wasn’t on the field for spring workouts (at least the sessions that were open to the media). From this viewpoint, you can make an argument about Edelman or Rob Gronkowski when it comes to No. 2 vs. No. 3 on this list. But when it comes to overall importance, particularly as it relates to the success of Brady and the New England passing game, Edelman is clearly worthy of a spot in the top 3.
Quote: “He’s always been one of the hardest workers, one of the hardest workers I’ve ever played with [and] one of the most determined young men that’s on this team. And he’s got as much heart as anybody.” — Brady on Edelman, 1/16/16
Random Note: In the last three seasons, Edelman has more regular-season catches than Larry Fitzgerald (254), Calvin Johnson (243) and Jimmy Graham (219).