ATLANTA – You’ve gotta love Julian Edelman.
He came out of virtually nowhere, turned himself into a versatile and skilled wide receiver and now is the reigning Super Bowl MVP, with more playoff catches (115) and receiving yards (1,412) than everyone but Jerry Rice.
And that’s terrific.
But let’s not get carried away, people. He's going to Disney World. He is not going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That designation is reserved for elite performers of their generations, and let me ask you: Do you consider Edelman one of the top wide receivers in today’s game? OK, how about the top 10? Top 15? Twenty?
Look, I’m not knocking the guy. He’s the perfect short-to-mid-range target for Tom Brady, just as Wes Welker was a decade earlier. In six seasons, Welker had five 100-catch years, five 1,000-yard seasons and three times led the league in receptions.
But is he going to Canton? No.
The difference, of course, is that Welker wasn’t a Super Bowl MVP. In fact, he didn’t win a Super Bowl, period. Edelman won three. But Edelman never led the league in catches. He's had two 1,000-yard years. And he hasn’t had five 100-catch years. He’s had one.
Moreover, his 499 career receptions rank 148th in NFL history, tying him with Ben Coates, Todd Heap and Darrell Jackson. Welker’s 903 catches rank 22nd, or just behind Hall-of-Fame semifinalist Torry Holt.
But why stop there? Welker was a four-time All-Pro, with two first-team selections, and a five-time Pro Bowler. Edelman has been neither an All-Pro nor a Pro Bowler.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was right (and how often do you hear that?) when he said that Edelman’s “performance this season has been simply off the charts.” And nowhere was it more pronounced than the playoffs where, in three games, Edelman led everyone with 26 catches for 388 yards.
But he wasn’t the most effective player in the New England huddle. Running back Sony Michel was. Or maybe it was everyone who blocked for Michel and Tom Brady, with the Patriots burying opponents under a relentless rushing game and pass protection that had Brady sacked just once in three games.
No question, Edelman made big plays at big moments – especially on third downs. And, as coach Bill Belichick pointed out, he “performed under pressure.” But Belichick was quick to point that “many people do that,” and that Edelman is “certainly in the mold of the great, versatile Patriots” like Troy Brown and Mike Vrabel.
And that’s the beauty of the Patriots. Aside from Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, there’s not one guy on the field you’d single out as a Hall of Famer waiting to happen.
Now let me repeat: That’s no knock on Edelman. It’s a tribute to a team concept that’s lost in today’s fascination with statistics and analytics. The Patriots are all about winning titles and championships, not player rankings.
Quick, now: Tell me how many Patriots are in the Hall of Fame from 2001-2007 when New England went to four Super Bowls in seven years and won three? Well, let’s count. First, there’s cornerback Ty Law, and he was just elected. Then there’s Randy Moss, who was there only three-plus seasons (2007-2010) and never won a Super Bowl. And there is Junior Seau, whom the Patriots rented the last three years of his career, who didn’t win a Super Bowl and whose bronzed bust was earned in San Diego, not Foxboro.
So, in terms of guys who actually won Super Bowls with them … try one.
Now contrast that to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a dynasty that won four Super Bowls in six years. They had seven first-ballot Hall of Famers from that club and nine players overall. Or how about the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s? Like New England, they won three in four years. They have six players from that team in the Hall.
But the Patriots don’t have a star-laden lineup. They don’t line up seven first-round draft picks on one side of the ball as the Rams did Sunday. Nope, they have a great head coach, a great quarterback and, basically, a coterie of role players who fit neatly into a system that not only works but dominates.
And Julian Edelman is one of those players.
I know, he has six playoff games with 100-or-more yards, and, again, nobody but Rice has more. But that can happen when you’re in the playoffs every season … go to eight straight conference championship games and five Super Bowls in eight years … and have Tom Brady as your quarterback.
Julian Edelman is a tough, reliable and productive receiver, and he’s paired with the game’s best quarterback and football team. And that’s something to celebrate.
But let’s put a lid on the Hall-of-Fame talk. He’s good. He's tough. And he's versatile. But he’s not going to Canton.