Ravens at Patriots, Sunday 1:00 p.m. on CBS
With one gruesome, season-ending injury, Julian Edelman’s season took the final step in one of the most rapid developments of an NFL rookie in league history.
Wes Welker was lost for the season with a torn ACL/MCL against the Houston Texans on Sunday, leaving Edelman as the only replacement in an offense that is a direct function of its ability to give the ball to slot receivers.
In a season where there are at least two teams clearly the Patriots’ superior in-conference (unfamiliar territory with a healthy Tom Brady), Welker was the equalizer. He averaged 8.8 receptions per game for 11 yards per catch.
That’s eight first downs all by himself.
Edelman, on the other hand, was an unknown quarterback from Kent State that Bill Belichick drafted as his personal project, converting him to wide receiver in the Welker mold.
Most of the season was a developmental process. In week two, Edelman was thrown to 16 times. Several drops and poor route running contributed to only eight catches. Welker did not play in that game, a 16-9 loss to the New York Jets.
In the next 13 games, Edelman was targeted 23 times in the passing game, thanks to a healthy Welker and a lack of confidence in the project’s pass-catching skills.
In week 17, Welker was lost to the injury on the game’s fourth play, thrusting the six-foot, 198-pound Edelman squarely into the spotlight as the catch-and-run fuel to the offense’s engine.
He responded with ten catches out of 15 targets, a more respectable number than the week two exhibit.
Plain and simple, Edelman will need to run crisp routes and be in the places Brady needs him to be.
The biggest question concerning Brady’s end of this situation is trust. Can Brady trust Edelman to be in the right place, and make the big plays like he clearly trusts Welker?
My answer is yes. Brady is a veteran quarterback who has played with patchwork receiving corps in the past, including young players who need his help to be brought up to speed. That’s the task assigned to the coaching staff and Brady this week in preparation’s for the Wild Card matchup against the Ravens.
How the rest of the team helps Edelman prepare for the game will be the difference in a rematch with the Colts, and an early start to an unpredictable off-season.