By Brent Schwartz, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — All it took was one cut, one football move by Julian Edelman to end his season due to a torn ACL. Now, the Patriots enter 2017 without Tom Brady’s most trusted target.
The loss of Edelman, by far the Patriots’ most targeted receiver in 2016, leaves Brady needing to redistribute those targets elsewhere.
Edelman last missed significant time in 2015. He injured his left foot during the Patriots’ 27-26 win over the Giants and missed the rest of the regular season before returning for the playoffs.
The Patriots started 9-0 with Edelman in 2015, but went 3-4 down the stretch without him. The late-season swoon cost the Patriots the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and Edelman’s absence was a major factor in Brady’s struggles to produce as well as he did with his No. 1 slot receiver on the field.
Now that the Patriots face an entire season without Edelman, they’ll need to look to others on the depth chart in hopes of replicating his production.
In 2015, it was Danny Amendola who got the most looks. Amendola was targeted 37 times during the first eight games of the season with Edelman in the lineup. After Edelman went down, Amendola was targeted a whopping 36 times in just the next three games.
Amendola had success, including catching three clutch passes during Brady’s game-winning drive to top the Giants. But Brady and the rest of the offense struggled down the stretch due to various injuries to LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis and Nate Solder.
Boasting much greater depth on the O-line and at running back than in 2015, Brady and the Patriots are much better equipped to handle the loss of Edelman. In addition to Amendola getting more looks, Brady will look to a healthy Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, and newly acquired Brandin Cooks to pick up the slack.
Edelman does most of his work out of the slot, but in general is a versatile, moving piece of the Patriots’ complex offensive scheme.
Cooks is one of the league’s best home run threats on the outside, but his combination of speed and quickness could make him effective in the slot. Additionally, undrafted rookie slot receiver Austin Carr may have a better shot at making the team with Edelman out.
Lastly, look for the Patriots to use running backs James White, Lewis and Rex Burkhead in the passing game more often. All three can run short option routes against linebackers in man coverage, much like the Patriots often used Edelman to create mismatches.
In all, the Patriots have the weapons to shore up the production usually expected from Edelman. The problem is, if Gronkowski, Cooks or Hogan get hurt, then it may officially be time to worry.
But as we know in New England, a pillar of the success during the Brady-Belichick era has been the “Next Man Up” philosophy.