When Tom Brady was under pressure in 2013, everyone knew that he'd look to Julian Edelman; Jules was the only option.
Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce? All hurt at some point during the season. Edelman was the only player that Brady was able to establish a rapport with and, as a result, became an obvious safety blanket.
The obvious hope for 2014 is the return of healthy players preventing Edelman from replicating his 2013 output. This isn't a knock against Edelman, or hoping for a reduced impact, but an expectation that he just won't receive the same opportunities as 2013.
But how true is this? It's clear that the Patriots want Amendola and Edelman to share the slot role, with their versatility allowing them to flex outside. But what if Edelman outright wins the slot position for the full season? How can we adjust our expectations?
Before we analyze, we have to note that this is hypothetical. The only way Edelman will effectively mirror Wes Welker's role on offense is if Danny Amendola is hurt again; if not, you can be certain that the offense will find ways to have Amendola siphon away some of Edelman's output.
I decided to look at the market share for Patriots receivers in the Tom Brady era to determine their influence on the offense. Sure, Edelman had 105 receptions, nearly twice as many as second place Amendola (54), but out of the offense's 380 completions, Edelman owned 27.6% of the market share.
Since 2001, Wes Welker has posted the five greatest number of receptions for the Patriots, but even he isn't at the top of the market share list (although he does capture six of the top eight spots). The leader is 2001's Troy Brown, with his 101 receptions, marking a 33.0% share of the season's 306 completions.
Edelman's 27.6% is the 7th most over that time, but falls on the shallow side of Welker's ownership. Ranks 2 though 6, as well as 8, are all Welker's with an average share of 29.6%.
With Brown's 2002 season ranking 9th (25.9%), we see that slot receivers are a shoo-in for a minimum of 25% of the offense's reception.
If, and that's a capital IF, Edelman can secure 100% of the time in the slot, he should post numbers similar, or better, than last season's output. But the chance of that happening is slim with Amendola on the roster.
(As a side note, I only looked at players with 500 or more receiving yards and Aaron Dobson's 37 receptions and 519 receiving yards have him ranked last in market share for both categories. Expect him to shoot up next season).
Edelman's 1056 receiving yards for 25.8% of the market ranks tenth in the Brady era, as we see a divergence from just the slot receivers. While 2001 Brown still ranks first (1199, 38.8%), Randy Moss's 2007, 2008, and 2009 all finish in the top 10, as does 2011 Rob Gronkowski.
2013 was an anniversary of sorts, as it marked the first time since 2003 that the Patriots didn't have two receivers with roughly 18% or more of the market share (2003 had Deion Branch [23.4%] and Davind Givens [14.9%]).
If we look at the 14 receivers with 500+ yards and <20% of the market share, we see that 10 of them have come since the 2010 season- an obvious shift in offensive philosophy.
The return of a healthy Dobson, Gronkowski, Thompkins, and Amendola, as well as the introduction of Brandon LaFell should eat away at Edelman's production. He can still be a top option and fail to match 2013 as the other receivers continue to add to their slices of the pie.
The reality shows that since 2008, the Patriots leading receiver has been the slot receiver, which speaks to the intrinsic value of the position in the system. The question still lies in if Edelman will be allowed to hold the position by himself.
Edelman's touchdown share is a point of concern. While his raw number (6) isn't spectacular, it accounted for 24% of the passing touchdowns, the highest percentage by a slot receiver in the Brady era. The only other two slot seasons to break 19% of the touchdown shares were Brown's 2001 and Welker's 2011, both when they were the unquestioned #1 receiver on the team.
I don't think Edelman will be afforded that ranking in 2014, which places a ceiling on his potential.
It should come as no surprise that the top six shares of touchdowns are owned by Randy Moss (ranking 1, 2, and 3 with his 2008, 2009, and 2007 seasons) and Rob Gronkowski (ranking 4, 5, and 6 with his 2011, 2012, and 2010 seasons).
Expect more of the same from a healthy Gronkowski and don't be surprised to see Aaron Dobson break into the 20+% share.
My main point in checking these values was to see how Edelman stacked up to historical Patriots receivers with regards to the offense's reliance on their production. By averaging the market shares of reception, yards, and touchdowns, we can see the players who were the most integral to the offense.
Ranking first, second, and third are Randy Moss (his 2007, 2008, and 2009). It's a testament to his ability and to how important of a player he was to the Patriots during his tenure.
Fourth is 2001's Troy Brown, with his 5 touchdowns limiting his overall value.
Fifth is 2011 Rob Gronkowski, and the last player to average over 30% for value; his 17 touchdowns set the pace that hopefully he can reattain in the upcoming season.
Sixth (2011) and seventh (2008) (as well as ninth , tenth , eleventh , and twelfth ) is Wes Welker, who clearly deserved the title of "number one receiver" due to his impact.
Ranking eighth is Julian Edelman's 2013 season, where he was fairly consistent in his output. He accounted for 24.0% of the touchdowns, 25.8% of the yards, and 27.6% of the receptions. There's an outside chance that Edelman will be able to replicate the raw numbers in 2014. But don't expect him to match his market share.