Julian Edelman Remains a Safe Bet For WR2 Numbers (2019 Fantasy Football)
While sifting through the consensus of 140-plus analysts in the industry, I’ll always try to dissect players who the industry is torn on, as those are often the picks that mean the most to fantasy football owners. One player I’ve come across recently is ranked as high as 25th overall, while others have him outside their top-70 overall.
I’m talking about 33-year-old Julian Edelman, who’ll be entering his 11th NFL season in 2019. He’s highly regarded as someone who is good when on the field, though it hasn’t been a common occurrence to see him on the field for 16 games. Throughout his 10 years in the league, he’s been on the field for all 16 games just twice. Should this prevent you from drafting him at his current cost as the 17th wide receiver off the board?
While he’s played 10 years, Edelman was primarily a special-teamer in the first four years of his career, getting limited snaps behind Wes Welker. Once Edelman was put into the starting lineup in 2013, though, he was there to stay. However, it’s important that you know Edelman has still yet to finish better than the WR14 in PPR formats during the five years he’s played as a starter (missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL).
We already talked about his struggle to stay on the field, so let’s take a look at his per-game finishes in each year as a starter.
What that chart shows is a consistent WR2 when on the field who flirts with WR1 numbers at times. It’s also important I note that those points per game averages were on half-PPR, as he would’ve benefitted greatly from a PPR standpoint. The issue is that he’s now 33 years old and based on the study I did this offseason, there’s been no wide receiver over the last 12 years who has posted a top-12 wide receiver finish. Granted, there’s only been 20 players who’ve played at age-33 and seen at least 50 targets in that time, but it hurts the argument for Edelman’s upside.
WHERE DID ALL THE TARGETS GO?
Edelman has been highly targeted throughout his time in the starting lineup. His 640 targets over his last 64 games amounts to an even 10.0 targets per game. Since 2013, there have been just four wide receivers to average more targets per game: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, and Calvin Johnson. That’s it.
Now keep in mind that was with Rob Gronkowski in the lineup for many of those games. The actual split was 47 games with him, to 20 games without him. Here are the results on his performance:
Everything outside of the touchdowns increased significantly, including the 11.4 targets per game, which would be the most in football. With Gronkowski gone, Edelman is going to be peppered with targets when on the field.
It’s not just Gronkowski that’s gone from the field, it’s also Chris Hogan, who averaged 4.3 targets per game over the last three years in New England, and Cordarrelle Patterson, who averaged 4.7 combined carries/targets during the 2018 season. There’ll be some who point out that the Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry in the first round of the NFL Draft, but how often do rookie wide receivers see the 100-plus targets that Gronkowski did? Others will point out Demaryius Thomas as someone they signed in free agency. Count me as someone who thinks he has a better chance of being cut than being a fantasy producer. 32-year-old receivers don’t come back from Achilles injuries (no one does).
Another argument is that the Patriots may go more run-heavy now that they’ve lost Gronkowski, but the argument against that logic is that Gronkowski has missed plenty of time throughout the last seven years. 29 games to be exact. Still, Tom Brady‘s pass attempts never dipped below 570 during a full 16-game season. While I do believe they want to be more run-heavy, the targets will still be there for the taking.
It’s only August and we already have an injury to Edelman, as he broke his thumb while playing catch in July. This won’t do any wonders for his injury-prone label some have given him, but this isn’t going to affect his availability for Week 1, so it’s almost a non-story. Edelman knows the offense better than anyone, he has Brady’s trust more than anyone, and he’s going to get targeted more than anyone.
If Edelman were a lock to play 16 games this year, I’d suggest drafting him as a high-end WR2 with low-end WR1 potential, but I can’t do that knowing what we do about him. While I don’t prepare for injuries, you must understand that when drafting Edelman, you’re likely going to be without him for a game every now and then. When he’s in the lineup, he’s a must-start every week, which is not something you can say about the guys being drafted as low-end WR2 options (Kenny Golladay, Chris Godwin, Calvin Ridley). Because of that, you should be willing to draft Edelman in the middling WR2 range, especially in PPR formats.