Julian Edelman has never made a Pro Bowl and in an era of unprecedented passing numbers in the NFL, he still ranks just 148th all-time in receptions and 248th in receiving yardage. Nevertheless, it’s fair to wonder if the Patriots wide receiver will end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
At 32, Edelman still figures to have a few seasons left to increase his regular season numbers. His case for enshrinement in Canton rests on a tremendous postseason résumé burnished Sunday with a performance that earned him Super Bowl MVP honors in a 13-3 New England win over the Rams.
Given the low score — in fact, the lowest combined total in Super Bowl history — the Patriots needed all of Edelman’s 10 catches for 141 yards. Throwing to everyone else, New England quarterback Tom Brady completed just 11 passes for 121 yards, while Rams counterpart Jared Goff accumulated 229 yards on 19-of-38 passing.
[Julian Edelman began the season with a PED suspension and ended it as Super Bowl MVP]
Edelman proved once again to be the most dependable target for Brady, who himself is a lock for a gold jacket, and the receiver’s outing had ESPN’s Adam Schefter declaring that Edelman was making a strong case to join the quarterback in that club. NFL Network analyst and former wide receiver Nate Burleson agreed, calling the 5-foot-10, 198-pound Edelman “the biggest dog on the field.”The MVP performance was just the latest in a series of strong postseason outings for Edelman, who missed the Patriots’ run to last year’s Super Bowl after tearing his ACL in a preseason game. In the 2017 Super Bowl, he created arguably the most indelible play of the game, making a miraculous catch that went a long way toward helping New England storm back from a 28-3 deficit against the Falcons.
In Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday, Edelman added to postseason numbers that are second-best in NFL history, behind only the immortal Jerry Rice. Over 18 playoff appearances, a little more than a full season’s worth of games, the former Kent State quarterback has 115 receptions for 1,412 yards, plus five touchdowns.
To put that into some perspective, Michael Irvin, a Hall of Fame wide receiver who starred for the Cowboys during their 1990s dynasty, amassed 87 catches for 1,315 yards and eight touchdowns in 16 playoff games. Irvin posted much better regular season numbers than Edelman has put together so far, but the Dallas quarterback for that run, Troy Aikman, is in the Hall of Fame almost entirely because of his role in leading his team to three titles in four years.Edelman now has the same number of rings, and his lines in those games go as follows: 9-109-1, 5-87-0, 10-141-0. In that span, he has five other playoff games with at least 96 yards and in the run-up to this Super Bowl, CBS Boston’s Michael Hurley compared him to another Hall of Fame quarterback, former Rams and Cardinals star Kurt Warner.
“He ranks 40th on the all-time passing yards list, just ahead of Mark Brunell and Ryan Fitzpatrick,” Hurley wrote of Warner. “He’s tied with Kerry Collins for 38th on the all-time touchdowns list, just behind Joe Flacco and Matt Hasselbeck, and with 18 more touchdowns than Fitzpatrick. As a regular-season QB, he was average. But he’s thrown the seventh-most playoff touchdowns, he’s 10th in playoff passing yards, and he owns the second-best passer rating in playoff history. That’s why the man wears a gold jacket.
“If that can be the case for Warner, can’t it be the case for Edelman?”CBS analyst Boomer Esiason, a former Super Bowl quarterback in his own right — and someone who ranks well ahead of Aikman on Pro Football Reference’s career approximate value list — said recently that he was buying Edelman’s argument for enshrinement. While the receiver’s “numbers in the regular season don’t add up to Antonio Brown, A.J. Green or Julio Jones,” Esiason noted, Edelman “is clutch in the biggest of games.”
“I don’t know what else to tell you,” Esiason added after Edelman helped the Patriots outlast the Chiefs in the AFC championship game in part by contributing a number of key receptions in overtime. “He is, in my eyes, truly the definition of a Hall of Famer: make the play when the play needs to be made in the biggest games to win the game.”
One issue that could well arise, should Edelman eventually make it to the final round of Hall of Fame voting, is the four-game suspension he was given to start the 2018 season for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. As some pointed out online Sunday, a few baseball players with far greater careers than Edelman’s have been shunned by Hall of Fame voters, and in the particularly high-profile cases of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, neither was definitively linked to PEDs.Given that the Patriots have left no doubt about their status as the NFL’s all-time greatest dynasty, that run of dominance would figure to call for some acknowledgment in Canton. Brady and Coach Bill Belichick are guaranteed to waltz in on their respective first ballots and team owner Robert Kraft could get some support, but while cornerback Ty Law was just voted in, who else will be?
Other stars from the early, more defense-oriented years of New England’s dynasty, including Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Troy Brown and Lawyer Milloy, don’t appear likely to make it, while Richard Seymour was a finalist this year in his first year of eligibility but failed to make the cut. Wide receiver Randy Moss is in the Hall of Fame as much for the record-setting start to his career in Minnesota as for his four years with the Patriots, which were very fruitful but did not result in a championship.
Rob Gronkowski, who may have played his final game on Sunday, is almost certain to be voted in as arguably the greatest tight end ever, and former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri, the NFL’s all-time leading scorer who is still plying his trade with the Colts, figures to make it. Beyond them, nose tackle Vince Wilfork has a good case, wide receiver Wes Welker could get consideration and guard Logan Mankins was regarded as one of the finest at his position in his day.
Still, a team that hasreached a mind-boggling nine Super Bowls in 18 years, winning six while also getting to 13 conference championship games, would seem to merit more than, say, six sure-thing Hall of Famers. For comparison, the four-time champion Steelers of the 1970s put 10 players in Canton, plus Coach Chuck Noll and owner Art Rooney.
That Pittsburgh contingent also includes wide receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, whose candidacies were based greatly on their postseason contributions. Both players have many more regular season touchdowns than Edelman’s 30, but he has far more catches than Swann (499-336), just 72 fewer yards and is 38 catches behind Stallworth.In terms of playoff numbers, Edelman has more catches than those two combined and more yards than either. Of course, Swann and Stallworth played in a different, vastly less passing-oriented era and were much more dangerous downfield threats, but by the same token, Edelman is perfectly suited for the Patriots’ high-percentage passing game, which relies on him to read and react to defenses almost as well as Brady does.Alternatively, voters could heed the words of Rice, regarded by some as the greatest NFL player ever at any position. The former 49ers star recently said of slot receivers such as Edelman to The Athletic, “You have to start considering these guys.”
“Yeah, he doesn’t have the regular-season numbers and stuff like that, but it’s what this guy is doing during the playoffs. … It’s up to the Hall to make that decision, but I think you have to start looking at these guys from the slot position,” Rice added.
“I don’t know how the [Hall of Fame] committee makes their decision on who is going in and who is not, but I think you have to start looking at these guys that you don’t consider the go-to guy — which he is the [Patriots’] go-to guy — and the guy playing that position, a much smaller guy, is getting the job done and putting up the numbers.”
Edelman may be smaller than Rice, Irvin and many other wide receivers who fit the traditional mold of Hall of Famers at that position, but he has consistently come up big when it has counted the most. In the past, that has meant plenty in the minds of voters, and now he has a Super Bowl MVP award to place high on his résumé.