Ever since Wes Welker left the New England Patriots following the 2012 season, Julian Edelman has served as the team’s number one wide receiver. Since then he has been the Patriots' undisputed top pass catcher and leads the team in targets (658), receptions (436) and receiving yards (4,775) over this four-season period.
In 2016 alone, Edelman was the target of a combined 195 pass attempts during the regular season and playoffs, catching 119 of them for 1,448 yards and four scores. And while the sheer volume of his workload stands out, another aspect of Edelman's team-leading production might be even more impressive.
According to statistics compiled by Pro Football Focus, the 31-year old saw the most targets in the NFL without one being intercepted:
The advanced stats website has Edelman as the target of 146 regular season pass attempts and not one of them was intercepted. Although, to be fair, a pass thrown in his direction during the divisional playoff game against the Houston Texans was tipped and picked off – but it obviously is not part of Pro Football Focus' equation.
Looking at the bigger picture, the statistic reflects both the risk-averse approach New England's quarterbacks – not just Tom Brady but Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett as well – take when it comes to passing the football as well as Edelman's usage within the Patriots offense.
While the Patriots align the former college quarterback all over the place, he sees most of his action on short and intermediate routes. The goal is simple: New England tries to take advantage of his quickness and ability to create yards after the catch. It works. In 2016, 5.2 of his 11.3 yards per reception were created after Edelman caught the ball.
Naturally, such a use limits the risk of interceptions as a focus on the short and intermediate passing game leads to the football getting from the quarterback to the receiver rather quickly, minimizing defenders' chances to intercept the pass. As noted above, though, New England did not exclusively use its top wide receiver on such patterns.
Of Edelman's team-leading 98 regular season receptions, seven came on plays longer than 25 yards. Of those, six were created without virtually any yards after the catch – showing that he is a reliable weapon not only because of his usage but also because of his elite route running, chemistry with the passers and ability to create separation.