The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: Julian Edelman
Editor’s Note: As outlined in the Path to WR1 Primer article, The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season article series will showcase WRs who are currently ranked outside of the top-15 receivers in Andy, Mike, and Jason’s initial PPR rankings. We are identifying players that possibly have a shot at finishing the year as a WR1. We are NOT projecting a WR1 end of the year total but merely giving the high-end range of outcomes for players to show what type of ceiling is in the realm of possibilities.
If you tried to include Julian Edelman in discussions about the fantasy elite like Odell Beckham Jr. or Julio Jones, you’d be mocked. Here are the arguments against him being a WR1 entering 2019…
- He’s never finished better than fantasy WR16 in his entire career.
- He’s 32 years old and his quarterback will be 42 when the season begins.
- He’s been in the NFL for ten seasons but he’s only played two full seasons.
- He’s battled injuries and endured suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
- The Patriots just drafted rookie wide receiver N’Keal Harry in the first round of the 2019 draft.
But have you seen the guy play football?
2018 Season Recap
Edelman is a freak on the field and he never let your fantasy team down in 2018 posting an impressive 0% bust rate.
He continues to be one of the NFL’s most talented and consistent receivers. Edelman is a gritty grinder who is even more valuable as an NFL player than a fantasy player, and that’s saying a lot. Regardless, Edelman has been a huge contributor for fantasy teams and he’s a perennially under-rated player. Those who drafted Edelman in 2018 were rewarded with a top-12 WR from week five on (when he returned from a suspension for alleged PED use).
The Patriots will enter the 2019 season without Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, and Cordarrelle Patterson, who accounted for 103 total receptions in 2018. They may also be without Josh Gordon, who caught another 41 passes. On the other hand, they were busy in the offseason by acquiring Demaryius Thomas (WR), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE), Maurice Harris(WR), and drafting rookies N’Keal Harry (WR) and Damien Harris (RB). Despite the offseason moves, Edelman’s target share isn’t in danger. It’s in the realm of possibilities that Edelman receives 150+ targets in 2019, as he was on pace for 144 last season and Gronk is no longer in the picture.
The Path for 2019
Edelman was the WR9 and tied for the 4th most consistent WR after his 4-game suspension in 2018. He’s a playmaker. The top reason why he’s not currently ranked as a top-15 WR is injury concerns. He’s an older wide receiver too, but age is of little concern considering he was the Superbowl MVP a few months ago. So when it comes to his potential range of outcomes, it depends primarily on health.
Target Share– In 2018, Edelman posted a target share of 24.8% after his four-game suspension. That’s a higher target share than Tyreek Hill, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Mike Evans! His career high target share was a ridiculous 30.6% in 2016, just a couple seasons ago. For reference, DeAndre Hopkins paced 2018 receivers with a 28.7% target share.
When on the field, Edelman has maintained a 25.6% target share of Tom Brady’s passes since 2013.[lptw_table id=”159577″ style=”default”]
Edelman is poised for another season with a dominating target share in a top NFL offense.
Catch Rate– Edelman has a career catch rate of 66.6% (yikes) according to Pro Football Reference. While his 68.5% catch rate in 2018 is far below the league leaders, he’s been pretty consistent through his career and we should expect more of the same in 2019. If you have any concerns about Edelman’s ability to catch the ball, go on youtube and watch “the catch” from Superbowl 51.
Receptions– Edelman caught the 20th most receptions among wide receivers in 2018 despite missing 25% of the NFL season due to suspension. Excluding his sophomore year (2010), he’s recorded at least 92 receptions in every season he’s played at least 14 games. If he repeated his 2018 pace over a full season, he’d be one reception shy of triple digits.
Receptions are one of Edelman’s strong suits, as he’s a short yardage slot receiver who moves the chains. He’s averaged over six receptions per game every single season since 2013. For this reason, Edelman gets a considerable bump in value in PPR leagues.[lptw_table id=”159579″ style=”default”]
Yards– As Brady’s favorite receiver, Edelman has averaged 72 yards per game over the past five years (when on the field). In fact, he’s provided a floor of at least 66 average yards per game every season since his 2013 breakout season. He catches short passes and has an incredible ability to gain a few more yards after contact.
However, Edelman has never been a yardage monster. He recorded an uninspiring 11.5 yards per reception in 2018. For this reason, his value does take a hit in standard scoring leagues.
Edelman should repeat about 70 yards per game in 2019, but it’s possible that he takes a slight step forward due to changes in the offense.
TDs– John Ross. Zay Jones. Anthony Miller. These are some names of receivers who caught more touchdown passes (6) than Edelman in 2018. While he only played 12 games last year, Edelman’s never caught more than 7 touchdown passes in a season. This has just never been his primary role in a Patriots offense where every player fills a specific function. He grinds between the 20’s, but he does still get involved in the red zone from time to time.
The nice thing about Edelman is that he doesn’t need more than 5-7 touchdowns to post a top-12 season. Entering 2019, it’s even possible (though unlikely) that he catches 8 touchdowns in an offense that no longer has the NFL’s greatest cheat code: Rob Gronkowski.
WR1 Possibility: High Chance (50%)
No matter how you look at it, Edelman could finish as a top-12 receiver if he can stay on the field for the entire season. He is still appropriately ranked in the WR15 – WR20 range due to injury concerns and a lack of elite upside compared to others near him like Amari Cooper and (insert any of the three Rams wide receivers here). However, I love rostering one or two top tier slot receivers like Julian Edelman, Jarvis Landry, and Larry Fitzgerald because they provide a safe floor so you can take risks on other skill positions. I’m all in on Julian Edelman this year at a fourth-round ADP.
Edelman’s path to a WR1 season is simple: play 16 games. I think he’ll do it.
Forget fantasy for a minute…Edelman is an NFL stud. Only Jerry Rice has more receiving yards in the NFL postseason. Ever. Yes, you may want to read that again.
He’s Brady’s favorite receiver and has been incredibly consistent for the past six years. He’s the top dog in what should be a top tier offense once again.
The only fantasy risk with Edelman is his health. Many of the wide receivers drafted near him also have upside to finish in the top-12. So why should you draft Edelman over them? If Edelman plays, you can put him in your line-up and bank on consistent, top-12 WR production. You won’t be worrying about whether to start him on Sunday mornings like some of the other options in his draft range.
While I’m a believer in drafting the best available value, I typically try to draft 2+ RB in the first three rounds. If I get good value at RB and possibly TE in a 12-team league, I’d be comfortable with Edelman as my WR1 in 2019. I would rather draft Edelman (ADP WR16) in the fourth round than Amari Cooper (ADP WR14) in the third. While Cooper has a much higher ceiling (top-3 WR), I’d rather have the safer floor one round later.
So you’re telling me I can draft the reigning Superbowl MVP who catches passes from the greatest quarterback of all time in the fourth round of fantasy drafts? Done. Deal. I’ll take the over on Edelman in 2019.