Before I delve into the meat of this story, I have to concede one fact up front.
I’m originally from New England, and I root for all the teams that come with that.
The Patriots dynasty during the Bill Belichick era — it’s made me happy. I’ve tried to take it in stride because I grasp the absurdity of it all; it’s nearly impossible for any franchise to win this often, and obviously the success has nothing to do with me.
I’ve never called a play, signed a free agent, made a tackle, or scored a touchdown. Heck, I rarely even go to games any more. I’m just a guy with a television; an internet hookup; a fun job; typing skills; and a little common sense.
The genesis of my rooting interests came through geography and shared experience with those I grew up with. Again, there’s a silliness to this that I’m well aware of.
So, yes, Julian Edelman’s career, and playoff heroics, have brought me happiness. But no, no, a thousand no’s, he’s is not a Hall of Famer — at least not yet.
I’m surprised this is even a discussion. Although Edelman’s alma mater, Kent State, is a mere 35 minutes from Canton, Ohio, it’s a potential journey that’s still mostly uphill.
Edelman’s Hall of Fame cred took a seismic jump in the recently-completed playoffs. He riddled the Chargers, Chiefs, and Rams for a collective 26 catches for 388 yards. He was a slam-dunk choice for Super Bowl MVP. He’s been an impact player on the last three New England championship teams.
Edelman’s playoff resume has swelled to legendary proportions in the last five years. Over his last 13 postseason games, he’s collected 106 receptions for 1337 yards. Only three of those catches have gone for touchdowns, but Edelman’s assembled a bunch of signature plays on the highlight tape.
Edelman had a dominant fourth quarter in the Super Bowl win over Seattle (4-54-1), playing through a possible concussion and eventually scoring the deciding touchdown. His fingertip grab against Atlanta defied the laws of gravity. And for about three quarters last Sunday, he was the only offensive player approaching his ceiling; the only enjoyable offensive skill player in a game that was near unwatchable.
Only Jerry Rice has a postseason resume that exceeds Edelman’s. And if January and February glory were all that mattered, Edelman’s bust would be essentially guaranteed. But players don’t make the Hall of Fame — in any sport, but certainly in the NFL — through playoff accomplishments only. You need some regular season peak or accumulation (or both), and Edelman isn’t close in either of those areas.
To be fair to Edelman, he was a late bloomer, and didn’t become a regular player until 2013. Had the Patriots appreciated Edelman’s upside prior to the 2013 season, they probably wouldn’t have thrown a big free-agent contract at Danny Amendola.
Edelman has been a good-not-great player since his snappy 2013 breakout (105-1056-6). But consider the things he’s never done. He’s never been an All-Pro or even a Pro-Bowl selection. (Can you think of a HOF-calibre player in any sport who never made an All-Star team?).
He’s caught a modest 26 touchdown passes in five years, with a high of seven. (He also — and this won’t be a part of my criteria — missed four games with a PED suspension.)
Statistics don’t tell the full story of any receiver — part of their job is helping others get open, blocking, etc. Edelman’s also provided quality return-man work and the occasional snaps on defense. But for legacy purposes, we have to focus on what they put on the receiver page — on the production numbers.
Here’s where fantasy rank can help tell the story. Edelman has never finished higher than WR19 in any season, and his best four years fall in this way — WR19, WR23, WR24, WR26. That’s a nice player, a useful player, a guy you want on your team.
It’s not someone who belongs with the gods of the gods, the greatest of the great. (Edelman’s EOS ranks have often been dinged by durability issues, but let’s be fair — that’s a bug, not a feature.)
Pro-Edelman wonks have latched onto the Lynn Swann case in recent days. There are some superficial similarities: Edelman has 5,390 career receiving yards and three rings, while Swann, a star of the Chuck Noll/Terry Bradshaw Steeler dynasty, retired with 5,462 receiving yards and four rings. Both left an indelible mark on playoff history, both have one specific Super Bowl catch you can remember by heart (Swann probably has more than one), and both won a Super Bowl MVP.
But a deeper consideration of Swann’s regular-season career makes it obviously superior to Edelman’s. We have to remember that the first four years of Swann’s career came before the NFL radically changed the pass interference rules. It was damn hard to throw the ball throughout most of the ’70s. When you consider Swann’s best seasons in context of the era, they take on considerably more value.
Swann was fantasy’s WR3 in 1975, the WR6 in 1977, and the WR5 in 1978. He made the Pro Bowl all three years, and was All-Pro in 1978. He not only made the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 70s, he was the receiver with the most votes. Not that writers are infallible, but the scribes at the time essentially said Swann was the best wideout of his era.
Being on an all-decade team doesn’t guarantee Hall of Fame status, but it gives you a damn good shot. Of the 15 wideouts selected between the 1970s and 2010s, 12 are enshrined in Canton. (I consider Drew Pearson and Harold Carmichael to be egregious snubs; as for Torry Holt, I’m in support of his case. I also view Isaac Bruce, who never made an all-decade team, to be a notable omission.)
Does Edelman have even the tiniest chance of getting on the all-2010s roster? With the understanding that decade-long leaderboards are inherently flawed from their selective endpoints, consider where Edelman ranks for the period.
If you go strictly on fantasy points from wideouts, Edelman is 39th. If you switch the scoring to a PPR tint, he bumps to 34th. Catches, 25th; yardage, 38th; touchdown catches, 43rd.
Let’s try to frame this the most favorable way we can for Edelman — what if we only scored wideouts from 2013 to present, and went per-game in PPR scoring, to cut Edelman a break for his time missed (knee blowout; other injuries; suspension) and to boost up what he does well: pile up catches? He’s still a modest ninth in PPR points per game.
I’d guess the all-decade list probably considers Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green, and Calvin Johnson at wideout — a damn tricky group to exclude anyone. Odell Beckham’s career dropped a little too late to bust in. Jordy Nelson had his run. Dez Bryant was a terrific player. DeAndre Hopkins is an obvious star.
Maybe Edelman will continue to climb up all-time and new-era leaderboards. Maybe he’ll bust into a Pro Bowl one of these years. Maybe he’ll continue the legendary run in the playoffs — I don’t know why it doesn’t show up to the same extreme in the regular season, but it’s still an incredible run. Maybe No. 11 is as good as retired in New England (and maybe I’ll be able to stop looking at the number and initially thinking, “Drew Bledsoe”).
But it’s not a slap in the face to call some players Hall of Very Good. Al Toon was very good. Lee Evans was very good. Carl Pickens was very good. Louis Lipps, Percy Harvin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh — all very good.
I didn’t pick those names at random, either. They’re some of the similarity-score players at the bottom of Edelman’s Pro-Football Reference page. And there’s one unmistakable characteristic about all of these memorable, fun, impactful wide receivers who are statistically linked to Edelman:
None of them are in the Hall of Fame.