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Patriots 2020 roster breakdown: Julian Edelman once again needs to lead New England’s wide receiver group

Related: Patriots roster breakdown: WR Quincy Adeboyejo

Cleveland Browns v New England Patriots Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Following the NFL draft and subsequent free agency period, the New England Patriots currently have 89 of a possible 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.

Today, the series continues with one of the most experienced players on New England’s roster.

Hard facts

Name: Julian Edelman

Position: Wide receiver

Jersey number: 11

Opening day age: 34

Size: 5-foot-10, 200 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 UFA)


What is his experience? Edelman enters the 2020 season as the most experienced full-time wide receiver on the Patriots’ roster. He originally arrived in New England via the seventh round of the 2009 draft and made the successful transition from college quarterback to wide receiver. Early on in his career, however, the Kent State product made his presence felt more due to his contributions as a punt returner than his receiving work. His role only began to change following Wes Welker’s free agency departure in 2013.

Edelman established himself as the Patriots’ most reliable wide receiver in Year One after Welker, and never looked back. He registered 90+ receptions and 900+ receiving yards in four of the seven regular seasons since, only missing the respective marks in years impacted by injury (2015 and 2017) or suspension (2018). Whenever he was on the field, though, he showed his value as a versatile and savvy receiver who is among the best route-runners in the business. Edelman thus turned into Tom Brady’s safety blanket and a worthy successor for Welker.

Edelman’s importance to the Patriots’ aerial attack became evident during the team’s three successful Super Bowl runs with him as their number one wide receiver. Not only did he post some outstanding numbers — he caught 118 playoff passes for 1,442 yards and five touchdowns — Edelman also stood out due to clutch performances. Whether it is the famous double-pass in the 2014 divisional round, his highlight-reel grab in Super Bowl 51, or his MVP-performance one year later, Edelman consistently stepped up when the team needed him to.

What did his 2019 season look like? After winning his third championship and being named the title game’s most valuable player, Edelman signed a two-year, $18 million contract extension with the Patriots during the 2019 offseason. He followed it up with another impressive campaign that looked a lot like his previous ones as the team’s top pass catcher: he appeared in all 16 regular season games as well as new England’s lone playoff contest, and was on the field for 1,057 of a possible 1,210 offensive snaps (87.4%).

Along the way, he posted some truly outstanding numbers once again. When the regular season was said and done, Edelman had 100 receptions for 1,117 yards — a new career-high — and six touchdowns as well as eight rushing attempts for 27 yards on his résumé. Furthermore, he was also once again used as a situational passer: he attempted two throws, completing both for a combined 47 yards as well as one touchdown to fellow wideout Phillip Dorsett in Week 11.

As productive as Edelman was throughout the season, he repeatedly struggled with injuries. The first of which was actually suffered early during the Patriots’ preseason finale, when he left the game after hurting his finger. The issue did not seem to impact him in any meaningful way, but it was a sign of things to come: Edelman was listed on his team’s injury report in 13 of a possible 17 weeks. He dealt with a chest issue suffered in September, hurt his shoulder in November, and added a knee injury in December.

While he missed only minimal playing time despite his ailments, Edelman appeared limited at times and ultimately was unable to lift the team’s struggling passing offense out of its late-season slump. However, this was also in part due to the attention he received: with defenses not having to worry about other pass catchers, they invested considerable resources in stopping him. He therefore found himself in an unfavorable position time and again, and the playoff loss against the Tennessee Titans is a perfect example of that.

The tightly-covered Edelman was the target of just five passes all game, and caught only three of them for 30 yards. That said, he did not go down without a fight: he also carried the football twice for 12 yards, and scored his team’s lone touchdown on one of his rushing attempts. In the end, however, it was too little, and one of Edelman’s most productive season from a statistical perspective had to end without another Super Bowl.

2020 preview

What is his projected role? Despite his comparatively advanced age and the fact that he underwent both a knee scope and surgery to repair a separated AC joint in his left shoulder earlier this offseason, Edelman is projected to play his usual role within New England’s offense in 2020: he will serve as the team’s number one pass catcher and as a reliable and experienced safety blanket for projected new starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham. As such, he will rarely leave the field again while also working as a leader in a young wide receiver room.

What is his special teams value? Even though Edelman started his career as a punt returner, the Patriots essentially shied away from using him on special teams in 2019: he played just seven total snaps in the game’s third phase, returning a pair of kickoffs for a combined 29 yards. Accordingly, he should not be expected to have much of an impact as a returnman or in any other kicking game function this year. New England wants Edelman healthy, and the best way of preserving that is by keeping him out of harm’s way on special teams.

Does he have positional versatility? While Edelman’s size makes him look like the prototypical Welker-esque slot receiver, he has shown that he can successfully play more than one role at a high level: he actually played more snaps split out wide (2,991) than in the slot (2,815) since he became a starting receiver in 2013. Even though this usage changed a bit over the last two seasons (1,125 snaps in the slot versus 880 wide) he is still expected to line up in numerous spots as a hybrid Z/slot option. Add his abilities as a ball carrier and an occasional quarterback, and you get one of the most versatile players in the game today.

What is his salary cap situation? As part of the two-year extension he signed with the Patriots last May, Edelman will be on the Patriots’ books this season with a salary cap hit of $9.67 million — fourth highest on the team and tops among its wide receivers. Given his role and age plus the fact that his current pact runs through his age-35 season, however, the number will likely not be altered in any significant fashion between now and the start of the regular season.

What is his roster outlook? Edelman’s salary cap hit may be significant, but he is a lock to make the roster this year due to his experience and proven productivity within the system — two traits that are highly valuable with a new starting quarterback in the lineup. The only true question about Edelman’s status therefore is whether or not his medical procedures during the offseason may impact his availability once on-field practices are allowed again. When it comes to the regular season, however, he will be on the field in his usual role.