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New England Patriots 2017 roster breakdown: #11 WR Julian Edelman

Despite all the new talent around him, Edelman will still be a focal point of the Patriots’ offense.

We have entered the deepest depths of the NFL offseason. Free agency and the draft are behind us, while minicamp and training camp won't start until early June and late July, respectively. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.

After all, until the late-August's roster cuts, players need to have secured their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 88 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.

Today, we’ll continue the series with the Patriots’ number one wideout.

Name: Julian Edelman

Position: Wide receiver

Jersey number: 11

Opening day age: 31

Experience: 8

Size: 5’10, 200 lbs.

2016 review: After missing seven games in 2015 due to a broken foot, Julian Edelman returned as his usual reliable self in 2016 and, for just the second time in his career, appeared in every one of the Patriots’ games. Despite being forced to catch passes from three different quarterbacks and needing time to get back to 100%, the veteran wideout had one of the best statistical years of his eight-year career.

Throughout the season, Edelman displayed his trademark agility, toughness and chemistry with the quarterbacks. Consequently, he led the team in multiple receiving categories: No other player caught more passes (98), was targeted more often (159; a career high) or registered more receiving yards (1,106; a career high) than Edelman. He also scored three touchdowns as well as a two-point conversion.

Edelman was especially productive after the Patriots’ week nine bye and with Tom Brady back throwing him passes. While he saw 10+ targets in three of New England’s first eight games, the veteran was targeted more than 10 times in nine of the team’s final 11 contests – among them all three playoff games. As he did during the regular season, Edelman also led the Patriots in catches (21), targets (36) and receiving yards (342) during the playoffs.

Furthermore, the Kent State product also served as a member of New England’s return game rotation. Edelman finished the season with a combined 22 punt returns for 201 yards (9.1 yards/return) as well as three kick returns for 44 yards (19.7/return). In short: 2016 was another highly successful campaign for the former seventh round pick – one that culminated in the second Super Bowl victory of his career; a game during which he made one of the greatest catches in NFL history.

2017 preview: Entering the final year of his contract, Edelman is once again projected to be a key member of New England’s offensive attack. As Tom Brady’s safety blanket, he will therefore once again be a candidate to lead the team in catches and possibly other statistics – despite the acquisition of Brandin Cooks and the return of Rob Gronkowski.

Even though the Patriots’ skill positions in general have never been this deep since Edelman was drafted in 2009, it would be a surprise to see him – barring any injury – on the field for fewer than 2017's 80.3% of offensive snaps. After all, his intelligence, route running ability and connection with Brady make him a valuable and reliable cog in the offensive machinery; one that is a candidate to receive a contract extension during the season.