Has Julian Edelman Been Overlooked in Fantasy Football?

Julian Edelman had a breakout year, and some believe it was a fluke. The numbers don't agree.

Considering how much the Dark Lord Belichick likes to shroud his team in mystery, it’s no surprise that the vote on Julian Edelman is still pretty split this close to the start of the season.

His average draft position has been slotted in the beginning of the sixth round as the 26th wide receiver off the board, with some taking him as high as the late third and others as late as the bottom of the seventh. That’s quite the discrepancy for a player that finished inside the top 20 in standard scoring for wide receivers in 2013. In fact, he’s the only player who finished in the top 10 for targets last year that’s fallen out of the top four rounds.

What gives?

The main culprit most likely has to do with the nature of a Patriots offense that’s constantly in flux and the manner in which Edelman obtained his points last year. Many would argue that his fantasy output was the product of a bevy of injuries to the Patriots receivers, and that Edelman was simply “the last man standing.” But that would be doing Edelman a disservice, who proved to be Tom Brady's most-trusted weapon by hauling in 105 catches on a massive 150 targets.

While there were some lulls in the middle of the season, especially once Rob Gronkowski returned in Week 7, Edelman really finished out the year strong with a tremendous eight-game stretch (including playoffs) that saw him catch 69 balls for 729 yards and five touchdowns.

Don’t think that the Patriots front office didn’t take notice of that, as they locked him down to a four-year contract during the offseason. Considering his strong showing in the preseason and the unhealthiness and unimpressiveness of the receivers around him, it’s safe to say that Edelman is locked in as the top wide receiver on a team that has notched up a good amount of points at the position over the past few years.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that Edelman is going to put up eye-popping numbers. That’s not his role in the offense - he’s a move-the-chains player, first and foremost. And although his fantasy numbers were ultimately solid, his Net Expected Points (NEP) left a little bit to be desired. Let’s take a closer look.

Edelman's Advanced Metrics

Here at numberFire a lot of our analysis is centered around our NEP metric, which allows us to quantify how valuable a player’s on-the-field production is for his team versus what's expected. If you’re curious for a more detailed explanation, feel free to check out our glossary.

Below is Edelman’s NEP compared to that of Brady’s previous favorite binky, the recently-suspended Wes Welker

Wes WelkerRecRec NEPTargetsTarget NEPRec NEP/TargetCatch RateSuccess Rate

Julian EdelmanRecRec NEPTargetsTarget NEPRec NEP/TargetCatch RateSuccess Rate

As you can see, save for Welker’s 2010 season coming off his ACL tear, Edelman’s numbers don’t quite reach Welker’s god-tier of production for a slot receiver. But these numbers don't totally alarm me for a few reasons. Firstly, you’re not - or weren't - being forced to take an early-round pick on Edelman like drafters had to with Welker in his heyday, therefore the risk is curbed a bit. Secondly, Edelman is a player who thrives on volume more so than efficiency, something he should still see a decent amount of in New England despite a predicted drop-off in targets due to the other skill position players being healthy again.

Speaking of which, that lack of stability from New England's 2013 injury-riddled team should dissipate now that their players' roles aren't being thrown into flux due to fluke injuries or incarcerations. Considering the number of solid options they now have, the Patriots offense as a whole should return to their usual dominant form. Just look at their team consistency in the years where virtually every offensive player wasn't hurt:

YearAdjusted Net Expected Points

For reference, the Broncos’ Adjusted NEP last year was 248.90, good for third-best since 2000. Meanwhile, the Patriots seasons from 2010-2012 respectively rank fourth, fifth, and seventh-best in that same time frame.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention some potential concerns for Edelman. It might seem odd considering the similarities between the two, but Danny Amendola is probably the least of Edelman’s worries, as he’s currently only being used in three- and four-wide sets and has only played with New England’s first-team offense for 59% of the snaps in the preseason, which pales in comparison to Edelman’s 95%.

Gronk could be a different matter, however, as Edelman did average four fewer targets with Gronk in the lineup as opposed to without. Edelman also doesn’t quite have the speed to turn his receptions into big-gainers (hence his 10.1 yards per catch), and has a lackluster reception-to-touchdown ratio (as he has only scored on 10 of his 174 career receptions), so he doesn’t possess the same threat of going off in any one game that players with similar average draft positions like Mike Wallace, Torrey Smith, or Eric Decker have.

With that all being said, Edelman remains a solid fantasy option - especially in point per reception leagues - and definitely given the fact that his draft price for most people was the sixth round or later. In a standard league, I may opt for one of those aforementioned “big-play” receivers, but there’s a good chance that Edelman exceeds expectations in either format.

We have him pegged as the 21st wide receiver in our rankings. We also have him projected for 9.35 fantasy points in Week 1.