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Football Outsiders: 2016 Julian Edelman is most similar to 2001 Troy Brown

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Patriots fans will love this comparison.

Football Outsiders releases an excellent preview of the upcoming season in their Almanac and the 2017 version is no different. Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard writes the section on the New England Patriots and Football Outsiders editor-in-chief Aaron Schatz answered a few of our questions about the upcoming year. You can buy the Football Outsiders Almanac 2017 here.

New England Patriots WR Julian Edelman was the focal point of the 2016 offense after the loss of TE Rob Gronkowski, which allowed the wide receiver to be one of the most productive in the league. But despite Edelman’s high volume of opportunities and production, he was one of the least efficient receivers over the course of the season.

The return of Gronkowski and the addition of WR Brandin Cooks should limit the targets of Edelman, but could also increase his efficiency due to the improved quality of each opportunity. With Gronkowski and Cooks stretching the field, Edelman should have a lot more room to roam than he did in 2016.

“Some of the drop in [Edelman’s] advanced stats are that he had a harder time getting open,” Football Outsiders editor-in-chief Aaron Schatz writes, “but I think some of it was also just being the target when Brady thought ‘OK, looks like nobody’s open, who should I throw this ball near in such a way that there’s a 10 percent chance he might actually catch it and a 0 percent chance it’s going to be intercepted.’”

Edelman fielded a lot of targets in the dirt and on throwaways, but he struggled to generate yards after the catch early in the year. This wasn’t the first time that the Patriots relied on a receiver of Edelman’s mold as the centerpiece of the offense.

“Using Football Outsiders similarity scores, the most similar season to Julian Edelman in 2016 is a player Patriots fans know very well: Troy Brown in 2001, followed by Mike Furrey (2006 Lions) and one of my personal favorite NFL players of the last 20 years, Derrick Mason (2004 Titans),” Schatz writes. “That being said, looking for historical comparables isn’t particularly useful for a modern slot receiver such as Edelman because that position didn’t really exist in its current form until the last decade.

“Edelman’s going to be 31, so I don’t think it’s ridiculous to think his best days are behind him, but the decline isn’t necessarily going to be fast. It could be very slow. He’s not really a red zone weapon, but he doesn’t need to be given the quality of the other players that surround him in this offense.”

In 2001, Troy Brown collected a career high 112 touches for 1,290 yards from scrimmage. He followed that up with a 904 yard performance in 2002, and then between 400-500 yards in three of the next four years.

Edelman could see a similar decline over the remainder of his career, especially since a 900-yard season wouldn’t be too much of a surprise with Gronkowski, Cook, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and James White all vying for targets.

Brown remains the best possible comparison for Edelman in their style of play, role in the Patriots offense, and for their willingness to line up on offense, defense, and special teams. I’m sure Edelman would be the first to appreciate the connection.