FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When looking at the NFL's co-leading receivers through four games this season, one of them is expected. The other, not so much.
That's what makes Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, with his 34 receptions tying Houston's Andre Johnson atop the list, one of the undersold stories of the first quarter of the NFL season. If Edelman totals seven or more receptions Sunday in Cincinnati, he will tie the NFL record for consecutive games of seven or more receptions to open a season (last accomplished in 2007 by T.J Houshmandzadeh and Derrick Mason).
Mention Edelman's emergence to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and he can't help but smile.
The two California natives have grown close since Edelman joined the Patriots as a seventh-round draft choice in 2009, a college quarterback at Kent State attempting to transition to NFL receiver. Edelman quickly earned Brady's respect with his dogged work ethic. Their lockers are also next to each other, which means there is a lot of ribbing, often with Brady as the antagonist.
Wednesday was just the latest episode, as Brady was asked about Edelman's early-season production in the context of the growth he's seen from Edelman since first joining the Patriots.
"To play college quarterback ... I’d love to see those old tapes of him running around because he’s kind of a spaz," Brady said Wednesday. "I always say, ‘God, what were you like in the huddle as a quarterback? How could anyone look at you seriously?’ But I guess he did pretty good. He definitely can’t throw the ball so he made the right switch to receiver at the right time."
Edelman's story is well-documented, how fans at training camp booed him one day when he was struggling returning punts his rookie season (he had never done it before). But he soon enough showed enough potential to be considered the heir apparent to Wes Welker if the unthinkable day ever came that Welker wasn't around; his 10-catch performance as a rookie in the 2009 season finale at Houston, after Welker was carted off with a torn ACL, was a reminder of this.
But a series of injuries, and perhaps doubt from others around the NFL, led to Edelman hitting unrestricted free agency this past offseason and receiving little interest. Even the Patriots themselves invested big in Danny Amendola, their offer to Edelman only a one-year, minimum-level pact with incentives that are already being reached.
Yet with Amendola injuring his groin in the season opener and missing the last three games, the Patriots have had to lean on Edelman more than ever. And he's delivered with league-leading totals.
"He’s been great. Very hard worker, he’s dedicated, nobody works harder than Julian," Brady said Wednesday in a more serious moment. "It’s hard when you’re playing behind Wes for all these years. You’re just not going to get a lot of opportunity because Wes was such a great player, was durable and Jules never got a chance. Now he’s got it and it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down at all."
Soon enough, it was time to get back to ribbing. As Brady returned to the locker room, there was some playful bantering between the two, Brady reminding Edelman that it's one thing to play quarterback at Kent State and another to do so at Michigan.
Edelman hardly seemed fazed.
After all, when you're the NFL's co-leading receiver, life is good.