As the Patriots prepare to play Falcons in Super Bowl LI, it’s hard to miss the fact that their offense looks much different than the last time they we’re in the Super Bowl. Martellus Bennett, Dion Lewis, and Chris Hogan are a few of the first timers who the Patriots are hoping can stave off the jitters that come along with playing on the biggest stage in modern American sports for the first time, but perhaps the biggest change in the offense is who the #1 option will be. Despite skepticism from the media and some fans, the Patriots have been able to survive the loss of Rob Gronkowski and make it all the way back to the Super Bowl. Without Gronk, the #1 option shifts to a much different looking player, Julian Edelman.
Julian comes into the Super Bowl experienced, but in his past 2 appearances he wasn’t expected to fill as big of a role as he is this time around. I don’t know if you caught that, but I did say “past 2 appearances”. Yes, although some may have trouble remembering, Julian Edelman was on the roster way back in 2011. That was the season that Julian was used sparingly as a cornerback at times. He even made 3 total tackles in the 2 playoff games prior to the Super Bowl. Julian ended his first Super Bowl without a tackle or a reception, but he did return 3 kickoffs in the game for a total of 73 yards. Although Julian only recently became the star he is now, he is one of the longest tenured Patriots on the roster, as well as one of the few who know what it feels like to lose a Super Bowl.
Julian is quite the peculiar man to fill Rob Gronkowski’s shoes. Standing at about 5’11”, Edelman is 7 inches shorter than Gronkowski. It’s not exactly a carbon copy, but what Edelman lacks in height, he makes up for in heart. We all know the story of how Jules went from an afterthought in the 7th round of the NFL draft to being the Patriots top pass catcher over the last 3 years. Last week, Edelman became the Pats all time leading receiver in the postseason, and continued to carve out his legacy in Patriots lore.
There is ample reason to anticipate a monstrous game for Julian Edelman. Edelman’s career has been made by his ability to create yards after the catch with his shiftiness. Julian has shown the ability to have big games against any defense, nevermind one that ranked dead last in yards allowed after the catch. You read that right. The Falcons ranked DEAD LAST in yards allowed after the catch this season. No big thing, yards after catch is only the entire basis of the Patriots offense, and they’ve only been perfecting it for about 16 years or so.
That means that there’s yet another person who’s legacy is on the line on Sunday. With a win and a strong game, Julian Edelman could become the best wide receiver in New England Patriots history. Two Super Bowl rings on top of the most receiving yards in Patriots playoff history is a tough argument to dispute. Who would have thought that in 2011 the guy who was playing nickel corner for us would be one of the most impactful Patriots of all time? If you told me any of the corners on that team would actually become anything I wouldn’t believe you.
Edelman does have some stiff competition. Randy Moss may have been the most skilled, and Troy Brown and Deion Branch’s achievements are tough to dispute, but if Edelman assist in leading the Patriots to this title, he’d have the rings and the stats to back up the claims of greatness, and in my opinion, the title of best.
I’ll admit, there was a certain point in the season where I was concerned about Edelman. Coming off that foot injury he seemed to have trouble getting his rhythm back, but then, Brady brought him back. Brady relentlessly targeted Edelman in the San Francisco game, going to him play after play after play. Ever since then, Edelman has looked better each and every week, and seems to have his confidence back. Julian has had huge games in both of the Patriots playoff games, and he’s coming into this Super Bowl with more experience than any receiver on the roster. He’s the guy on Super Bowl Sunday.
Expect to see a lot of Edelman on Sunday. I’m sure Brady won’t hesitate to target the stud slot receiver. Edelman deserves all the praise he’s received. Being a quarterback at Kent State, I don’t know how many people actually thought Julian could make it, but through hard work, dedication, and a lot of heart, Edelman was able to prove them all wrong. Seriously Belichick, how do you find guys like this?
Photo Credit: (International Business Times)