The New England Patriots have gotten more mileage out of shifting players around, even to both sides of the ball, than any team in the league. At the head of that list this season is Julian Edelman, who is listed as a wide receiver, but also plays cornerback on defense and returns punts.
In the AFC Championship game, the 5-foot-10, 198 pounds Edelman had 1 rush and caught 1 pass on offense, returned 2 punts on special teams, and made 2 solo tackles on defense. In the regular season, he has 28 punt returns for 300 yards and 1 TD, 4 rushing attempts and 4 receptions, and 18 tackles on defense.
Quick trivia question – which of these positions did he play in college? Answer: None of the above. He was a quarterback at Kent State. After graduation, his options were to go to the CFL and continue playing quarterback or to change positions.
“The British Columbia Lions took my negotiating rights and wanted me to come play quarterback,” Edelman said. But as enticing as continuing at quarterback was, the call of the NFL was too strong. The Patriots drafted Edelman in the seventh round (the 232nd pick overall) and wanted him to come play wide receiver.
“It was hard for the fact that you never played the other position [receiver], so you have a huge road ahead of you to learn something at the highest level in the world to it. But the easy part was that you didn’t grow up wanting to go to the CFL. I grew up wanting to go to the NFL, having that dream,” he said.
He grew up watching the NFL, and growing up in Redwood City, California in the 1980s and 1990s, there was some great football to be seen. His favorite team? “Definitely the San Francisco 49ers. I was a huge fan,” Edelman said.
“My dad was a huge [Joe] Montana fan. So I grew up loving Joe, liking Steve [Young], loving Jerry Rice. Walter Payton was a big one who my father always liked. I loved Barry Sanders. Deion Sanders, I used to wear No. 21 because of him.”
And now, just like Deion Sanders, he is not only playing in the NFL, but going to a Super Bowl and playing all phases of the game. While Deion was known as one of the best cover corners in NFL history, he was also one of the greatest return men, and was used intermittently at wide receiver, to stretch the field because of his amazing speed.
While Edelman didn’t get to play for the team he grew up watching, he has had a big advantage going to the Patriots, who have one of the best passing games in the league. It has also given him some great mentors to learn from.
“Getting here and playing the receiver position, obviously watching Wes Welker. That was a blessing in disguise, to play behind him and watch the way he practices and prepares, and kind of do everything the way he did,” Edelman said. “That’s been a big help, along with Tom Brady; just having a quarterback who is like a mini offensive coordinator out there. He knows everything that is going on. It’s been a big help to have those two.”
“When Randy [Moss] was here, he’d help me out as well.”
Learning from Brady, Welker and Moss gives Edelman a pretty good pedigree, and the Patriots have a history of using players in multiple roles. In 2004, wide receiver Troy Brown played extensively at cornerback to fill in for injuries on the defense, helping to lead the Patriots to a victory in Super Bowl XXXIX. Edelman hopes he can repeat the feat this year.
Asked how he likes playing in all three phases of the game, Edleman responded, “You know what I love? I love winning.”
“I truly am a lucky man to get to do what I love to do. It gets better every day. I never thought I’d be playing up here. It’s definitely been a great experience.”
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