The New England Patriots have a trio of wide receivers in Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, and Chris Hogan that can play both on the sideline and in the slot. Add in tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back James White and you have an offense that will be brutal to defend.
When I was looking at Tom Brady’s performance in 2007 and comparing it to his potential in 2017, I noticed how essential Wes Welker was to the offensive success coming out of the slot. I also pointed out that Cooks and Hogan are outstanding deep threats (as is Gronkowski), while Edelman really struggled as a target down the field.
So with all of these talents available for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, I wonder if it would be in the team’s best interest to keep Edelman closer to the line of scrimmage and to spend more time using his quickness out of the slot.
A common misconception around Edelman is that he replaced Welker in the offense. He’s asked to align in many more places than Welker. In 2013, Edelman spent 49.5% of his snaps in the slot, and it would be much lower if Danny Amendola hadn’t been injured. In 2014, Edelman spent 42% of his time in the slot, and increased to 51.2% in 2015 and increased again to 53.5% of the time in 2016.
So Edelman spends roughly half his time on the sideline and half of it in the slot- and he’s the most productive receiver in the league coming out of the slot.
Edelman “averaged 2.42 yards per route run out of the slot, the highest mark in the league,” according to Pro Football Focus. “No slot receiver was more likely to be thrown to when lined up there than Edelman, who was targeted 29.1 percent of the time he lined up in the slot.”
So even though teams know that Edelman is the likely target when he’s in the slot, he still managed to outproduce all the other slot receivers in the league.
Cooks has primarily been an outside receiver for the New Orleans Saints, while Hogan showed his best skill is his deep ball ability, which leaves Edelman in the slot in three-receiver sets.
I’m not suggesting that Edelman be married to the slot, like Welker or Amendola, but we might see Edelman’s time in the slot increase to 60% or more, and that could lead to a a potential increase in his production.
Edelman is coming off the best season of his career and will be surrounded by the best supporting cast he’s ever played with. With players like Cooks and Gronkowski and Hogan drawing defenders down the field, there will be plenty of space for Edelman to thrive in the short game out of the slot.