With Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola out at the start of the season, Julian Edelman experienced an unexpected run of fantasy relevance. He caught 34 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns in the first four weeks of the season. While he was quite useful in September, that was all supposed to end once Gronk and Amendola made their returns to the field. Initially, that is exactly what happened. In the first three games both Gronk and Amendola played, Edelman got just 10 total targets, catching six of them for 45 yards. However, buried in the stats were hints that he could recover his role in the offense from earlier in the season.
Gronk, of course, was his usual self once he was healthy enough to play. He hauled in eight of 17 targets for 114 yards in his first game and hasn't looked back, totaling 37 receptions, 560 yards and four scores in just six contests. Amendola, meanwhile, failed miserably to replace the departed Wes Welker. In those three games in which Edelman was marginalized, Amendola posted two fantasy duds, and was saved in the other by a 34-yard touchdown that came on blown coverage by the Steelers.
The last two weeks have seen Edelman seemingly leap past Amendola in the offense. The former has 23 targets, catching in 18 of them for 211 yards and two touchdowns. On the other hand, the latter has just eight receptions on 11 targets for 71 yards and zero scores. Edelman has played in a higher percentage of snaps than Amendola in every game this year, but the gap has widened over the last two weeks. Edelman was on the field for 84.1 percent of snaps two weeks ago and 88.6 percent last week. For Amendola, those numbers were 67 percent and 68.6 percent, respectively.
So how did Edelman reassert himself in New England? And can he make it last through the fantasy playoffs? Let's take a look at a few plays from last week's win over the Texans to find out.
We'll pick up the action early in the first quarter. The Patriots have a 3rd and 3 on their own 25-yard-line. One interesting thing to note about this play is that while it is just Brady's fourth pass attempt of the game, it is the third he has thrown in Edelman's direction. In addition, he lined up in the slot on all three of those plays, a Welker staple.
Here's the formation at the start of the play. Edelman is to the right, stacked in front of Amendola.
He sells the corner route beautifully to Houston corner Jonathan Joseph. As you can see in the first screenshot below, Joseph has opened his hips to play the outside route. Unfortunately for him and the Texans, that was just a feint from Edleman. He has already turned the route inside. At this point there is nothing safety Eddie Pleasant can do. All Brady has to do is put the ball on the spot, and he'll have a big conversion. However, he doesn't do that. He leads Edelman a bit too far, and Pleasant breaks on it thinking he might have an interception. Edelman saves Brady and keeps the drive alive with a wonderful lunging catch.
The next play we'll look at takes place with just fewer than 11 minutes left in the first half. It's 1st and 10 for the Patriots from their own 20-yard-line, and they trail 10-7. Edelman is in the slot to Brady's left. I took the screenshot with Kenbrell Thompkins coming in motion to keep Edelman in the frame.
This is nothing more than a simple three-step drop from Brady on an out by Edelman. As soon as Brady's third foot hits the ground, the ball comes out. By that time, Edelman has gotten the necessary separation and made his break. It's nothing special, but anyone will take seven yards on first down. The takeaway here is the spot in the offense in which the Patriots have place Edelman. This is a vintage Welker play. With Brady rolling again, that can be a very lucrative spot for a receiver.
Speaking of vintage Welker, if a football fan decided to quit the sport cold turkey after last season and walled himself off from it altogether only to succumb to its temptations last week to watch Patriots-Texans, he would have sworn it was Welker, and not Edelman, making the catch on this final play.
It's 1st and 10 from the Houston 44-yard-line with 10 minutes left in the third quarter and New England trailing 17-14. Edelman is again lined up in the left slot.
The Texans are in zone coverage here, and when linebacker Jeff Tarpinian passes Edelman off to the secondary, he runs a corner right into the soft part of the zone. Brady took pressure on this play, and in the screenshot below you can already see the ball floating over the 44-yard-line.
The pass is right on the money, aided by the fact that Edelman read the coverage beautifully and ran his route to the perfect spot, beating corner Kareem Jackson. Welker couldn't have done any better. He may have had an acrimonious end to his time in New England, but I like to believe he would have applauded Edelman had he seen this play.
There's little doubt that Edelman has reclaimed a large role in the New England offense. Can he, however, convert that into playoff production for his fantasy owners? On the downside, he has a tough schedule remaining. The Patriots play the Browns, Dolphins and Ravens over the next three weeks. The Ravens have allowed the most fantasy points per game to receivers of those three teams, and only 13 teams have allowed fewer than them. Still, Antonio Brown and Cecil Shorts have had success against the Browns in recent weeks, making him a high-end WR3 this week. I wouldn't necessarily trust him against the Dolphins Week 15, who have allowed the second-fewest points to receivers, but I'd likely get him right back in there against the Ravens should you make it to your league's championship game.
All images are screen shots of All-22 film.
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