Edelman creates a (good) problem

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots have a problem.

They have the best slot receiver in the NFL in Wes Welker. They also have a budding slot receiver in Julian Edelman.

So what happens when Welker returns to action?

Call it an embarrassment of riches, or what owner Robert Kraft sometimes describes as a "high-class" problem. Thirty-one other NFL teams can only wish to have such "issues."

Edelman was the shining individual star of the Patriots' 27-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the preseason opener Thursday night. He totaled six receptions for 90 yards -- picking up two-thirds of those yards after the initial catch -- and added a dynamic, 40-yard punt return in the first quarter.

Watching the electric Edelman, it was difficult not to wonder: Could the Patriots pair him and Welker together on the field, alongside Randy Moss?

That question was posed to ESPN colleague Tedy Bruschi and his response was straightforward: Why not?

"Julian Edelman can't be considered a replacement anymore. He has to be considered someone who can be a legitimate threat in this league after what he showed late last year and in this first preseason game," Bruschi said.

"He's not just opening eyes with how he's catching the ball, but also with how elusive he really is. He's making guys miss. Guys are trying to wrap his legs up and he has the ability to take his feet away. That ability is turning into an extra 10, 15 yards after the catch.

"To get him and Welker on the field at the same time, you're testing how creative [quarterbacks coach] Billy O'Brien and that offensive coaching staff can be."

Bruschi detailed how the Patriots could have a lethal four-receiver set, with Welker and Edelman in both slots. Given the team's effective receiver-screen game, it could be a difficult matchup for opponents.

"If you're the defense, which side do you favor?" Bruschi asked.

Bruschi also envisioned how the Patriots could have bunch formations, with Moss, Welker and Edelman lining up in one area. Those formations can help receivers get away from double-teams, and if all three are in the same bunch, which pass-catchers do defenses double?

While Edelman has been called Welker's "mini-me" because of the similarities in their style of play, there are some differences, starting with their physical makeup. Edelman is 5-foot-10, 198 pounds, while Welker is 5-9, 185 pounds.

So Edelman is a bit sturdier, almost running back-like, which makes him more of a Wildcat-type option than Welker. That's another creative way the Patriots' coaching staff could have Moss, Welker and Edelman on the field at the same time, which would give defenses yet another set of headaches to manage.

"When a player is as productive as Edelman was, you start to look for different ways to get him the ball," Bruschi said.

Another aspect to consider is that even though Welker and Edelman are viewed by many as slot receivers -- best utilized in three-receiver sets from an inside position -- they are actually more than that.

Welker was a regular in standard two-receiver sets last season when he lined up opposite Moss, and in Thursday's preseason opener Edelman lined up as an outside receiver on 10 of his 22 snaps on the field. Thus, seeing a Moss/Welker/Edelman trio on the field is not only realistic, but a near-certainty once Welker returns.

A whole new world of offensive possibilities has opened up for the Patriots. The potential for dynamic fireworks is intriguing.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.