As the Patriots head into their most important game of the season, it's clear who Tom Brady's top target is: Julian Edelman.
With Wes Welker out of his way, with a full season at receiver, Edelman has finally emerged.
After catching 69 passes for 714 yards in his first 48 games with the Patriots, he tried his luck last offseason in free agency. After failing to get other teams to bite. Edelman re-signed with New England for one year and $715,000. The Pats' return on that paltry investment? 105 receptions for 1,056 yards.
The coaches can't stop singing his praises.
"Julian has always had great ability," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Tuesday. "He’s a guy that has speed and can do a lot of different things . . . His opportunities have certainly increased and he is a guy that embraces whatever role you give him each week. He’s capable of playing on the perimeter of the offense and he has for us.
"He’s also unselfish and will do whatever we ask of him in any role, whether that’s to be a clear-out guy, block the secondary in the running game, whatever it may be, and he’s always had a great attitude towards his work and his preparation. I just see a guy that’s driven to be a great player. He’s always tried to be the best he could be. He’s certainly had opportunities presented to him this year that he’s taken advantage of."
Edelman was New England's most-targeted receiver in six of its last eight games. The two in which he wasn't? Carolina and Miami . . . the team's only two losses in that stretch.
The question now is whether the Patriots will take advantage of what he's put before them. The 27-year-old is again a free agent and will be looking for a big payday. Continuing to play at a high level through the postseason will help.
McDaniels, at least, doesn't need much convincing.
"I think he’s really led our receiving group with a tremendous amount of toughness, consistency," he said. "He practices hard, prepares hard, he’s on top of his game plan. He understands the defenses that we play and the players he’s going to compete against. I think he’s just really made himself a very well-rounded player that certainly has had a very productive year for us."