Hannable: Unlike last year, loss of Julian Edelman would be big blow to Patriots offense

Ryan Hannable
June 07, 2018 - 9:19 pm

Raj Mehta/USA Today Sports

FOXBORO — We’re well aware the Patriots reached the Super Bowl without Julian Edelman last year, but the start to this season might not be as easy without Tom Brady’s go-to receiver.

According to ESPN, Edelman is facing a four-game suspension to open the 2018 season for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy, pending an appeal.

The loss of Edelman for the first four weeks is actually a pretty big deal.

Consider who the Patriots have behind Edelman on the wide receiver depth chart: Chris Hogan, Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios and Cody Hollister. 

What is the general theme of this group? They are all fairly unknown, especially to Brady.

Unlike in past offseasons, Brady has skipped out on the voluntary offseason workout program so the only reps the 40-year-old has with them this spring came over the last three days of mandatory minicamp. 

With the Edelman news coming out just as the team exited the field following the final session, perhaps Brady will change his mind and attend the four final voluntary OTAs next week to get as much work with his receivers as he can before training camp. 

Well, don’t count on it.

“We’re not even though today yet," Brady said when asked if plans on attending next week. "We had a good three days and have been working on some things that we need to work on. That is what I always focus on.”

Of the nine receivers competing for roster spots, only two have at least a year of experience working with Brady — Hogan and Mitchell. Although, it’s worth pointing out Mitchell is no sure thing, as he still seems to be dealing with a knee injury that kept him out all of last year, and Hogan hasn’t had the greatest of springs. He wasn’t even close to the same player when he returned from a shoulder injury at the end of last season, so perhaps he's still dealing with some affects of that.

As of now, of the receivers left it seems Matthews, Patterson and Britt have the best chance of making the 53-man roster and would be the ones active in Weeks 1-4 to try and help fill the void of Edelman. McCarron and Berrios are the only other slot options, but they aren’t as talented as the other receivers and the team has proven they can win a few games without a slot receiver if needed.

Keep in mind, the offense still has Rob Gronkowski and talented running backs who can catch passes out of the backfield — led by James White — but it’s still not an ideal situation to open the year.

It would be different if Edelman was lost for four games in the middle of the year and Brady had plenty of experience with his receiving corps, but that isn’t the case. Of course there’s all of training camp and the preseason, but Brady’s lack of experience with his receivers could show up in Weeks 1-4.

He won’t just be without Edelman, he will also be without one of his other favorite receivers in Danny Amendola, who signed with the Dolphins this offseason. These were the two receivers Brady would always go to the past few seasons when he needed a big completion and he won’t have that the first four weeks.

On a big third-and-7, who is Brady going to look for? Defenses will certainly take away Gronkowski, so who is left? This isn’t really Hogan’s strength, as he caught 10 first down passes on 24 targets last season. (For the record, Amendola was Brady’s favorite target on third down last season as he caught 28-of-41 passes for 393 yards.)

It also should be noted who the Patriots are facing in the first four games: Houston, Jacksonville, Detroit, Miami.

Fully healthy, the Texans have one of the best defenses in the entire league. The Jaguars proved their defense can play with almost anyone and they will certainly be seeking revenge for the AFC title game loss last season, and then Matt Patricia will have his team ready for a Sunday Night Football matchup in Detroit. 

Getting off to a tough start would not be the best thing for the team, especially with the offseason that it had. Surely, many would try and connect it to the reported tension between the coach and quarterback, as well as Brady skipping the entire voluntary offseason workout program for the first time in his career.

In addition, Edelman may not be the same player when he comes back. He wouldn’t be the first player in his 30s to come back from a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs and not be the same as before. Rodney Harrison headlines that list, but most recently Rob Ninkovich wasn’t the same following getting busted coming back from torn triceps in 2016.

Just because the Patriots didn't miss a beat without Edelman last year, doesn’t mean it's guaranteed to happen again this year. It’s a new year with new players involved and different circumstances.

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