Julian Edelman 'probably does have that itch' to return to Patriots, says Deion Branch

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Of the five quarterbacks who were selected during the first round of the 2021 draft, Mac Jones has been head and shoulders above his rookie competition. He currently leads all first-year signal-callers in major passing categories, and his early success with the New England Patriots has caught the attention of former franchise receiver Julian Edelman, who retired in the spring.

Edelman's storied career in Foxboro is complete -- he won three Super Bowl titles in a five-year span with the Patriots, and ranks second in NFL history in playoff receptions and receiving yards. But would the 35-year-old consider returning to New England for another crack at a late-season run with Jones?

"I'm sure Julian probably does have that itch. It's just all about how he feels," former Patriots wideout Deion Branch told The Zach Gelb Show on Tuesday. "That's the most important thing. Knowing Jules, he's probably still like, 'Nah, I'm good.' But I do know deep down inside, this guy is a competitor, and he'd love to be out there making plays and helping these guys.

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Deion Branch, Former New England Patriots Wide Receiver
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"It's all about if your body can hold up, that's the most important thing. I'd tell him that he should [return to the Patriots]. I love the direction that this team is going in, and with a player like Julian, I think he'd actually give them an added benefit. It'd be a for-sure shot into the playoffs, and what happens after that remains up in the air."

Edelman, a seventh-round pick in 2009, spent his entire 12-year career with New England, and ranks second in receptions (620), fourth in yards (6,822), and ninth in touchdowns (36) in franchise history. Edelman's playoff heroics began in 2017, when his fingertip catch helped the Patriots pull of a stunning comeback in Super Bowl 51. Two seasons later, he racked up 141 yards in the team's Super Bowl 53 win, and was named the game's MVP.

Although Edelman reached considerable heights while on the field, his time in the NFL was bruised and battered. He endured a wide range of injuries, which included foot fractures, ankle sprains, concussions, and severe knee sprains. Edelman missed all of 2017 due to a torn ACL, and last year, he was sidelined for 10 games with a knee sprain.

New England (6-4), which currently owns the sixth seed in the AFC playoff picture, will visit the Atlanta Falcons (4-5) on Thursday night. According to FiveThirtyEight projections, the Patriots have a 74-percent chance to reach the playoffs and a 26-percent chance to win the AFC East.

The entire Patriots conversation between Branch and Gelb can be accessed in the audio player above.

You can follow The Zach Gelb Show on Twitter @ZachGelb and Tom Hanslin @TomHanslin.