The New England Patriots suffered a series of injuries in 2015, from left tackle Nate Solder and running back Dion Lewis, to tight end Rob Gronkowski and cornerback Tarell Brown.
But none might have been more impactful than the loss of wide receiver Julian Edelman for the second half of the regular season.
Edelman had averaged roughly 80 yards per game (YPG) over the first half of the season, before missing the second half of the Giants game in week 10 with a broken foot. Edelman finished the season with the 14th best YPG rate in the entire league, one rank behind Gronkowski.
If Edelman remained healthy, the Patriots probably would've retained homefield advantage and would have been in a far better position to defeat the Broncos in the AFC Championship game and to possibly reach a second-straight Super Bowl.
Edelman is lauded for his ability to make defenders miss and to take the hits and keep on playing. For these reasons, the Patriots leading receiver checks in at #87 on the list of Top 100 Players of 2016 after ranking #91 last season.
"He's gonna run right at you," Steelers LB Arthur Moats says about Edelman. "You sit outside, he's bursting in and if you're sitting inside he's bursting out. He may have 7 or 8 catches and all of them are in that 5 to 10 yard range. He's not afraid to take those big hits."
"You know it's coming and you can't stop it," former Dolphins and Packers WR Greg Jennings says. "All it takes is for you to miss one tackle and he's taking it to the house. He takes a lot of hits. He takes a lot of hits. But he's going to catch everything that comes in his vicinity."
Edelman recently underwent surgery on his foot, but he is expected to be ready to take the field for camp. The Patriots are due for some injury luck and everyone will be rooting for a healthy Jules.
"I love watching guys like [Edelman]," Jennings said. "Because they're the smaller-statured guys, but their heart is bigger than anyone on the field. The way they play the game is larger than life. Like, 'you look at me and you doubt what I can really do because of possibly my stature, but you're gonna recognize who I am, you're going to feel who I am because of my play.'"
Edelman ranks as the 16th most productive receiver in the NFL over the past three seasons; a bona fide #1 receiver. He'll look to pick up where he left off in 2016- and if he does, he'll rank a lot higher than #87 in the 2017 rankings.