ATLANTA – When Super Bowl LIII draws to a close Sunday, Julian Edelman is expected to have secured the second most catches in the history of the NFL playoffs, the second highest receiving yardage total in postseason history — and if the oddsmakers are correct about the New England Patriots, his third Super Bowl ring in the past five seasons.
In the history of the NFL postseason, only San Francisco 49ers legend Jerry Rice has done it better. A fact that has been driven into relevance this week, largely because there are only so many ways you can repackage a New England Patriots franchise that is the Super Bowl’s answer to chicken — the same stories with the same flavor, processed and presented any which way you can. It has led to this: A reaching Julian Edelman Hall of Fame bandwagon that now includes Rice and Boomer Esiason, along with an argument whether postseason stats can (or should) drive a Hall of Fame bid.
In what might be a precursor to Edelman’s Hall of Fame pitch, there doesn’t appear to be a right answer. Just a lot of disagreement about a career that hasn’t finished yet. That said, here are the three biggest issues (and a counterargument for each) that voters will attack when it comes to Edelman’s candidacy.
1. He has never produced at an elite level in the regular season.
Edelman has zero Pro Bowls, zero All-Pros and two 1,000-yard seasons in 10 years. And despite playing his career entirely inside the era of hyper-inflated spread passing offenses, he has produced only 499 catches, 5,390 receiving yards and 30 touchdown receptions. Stats may not mean everything, but Edelman’s receiving yardage total is 248th all-time at the moment. His catches? 148th. The touchdown reception total doesn’t even crack the top 250, which isn’t great considering guys like Brandon Lloyd, Jake Reed and Julius Thomas are among a massive clot of players tied at 249th with their 36 career touchdown catches. If Edelman is going to get serious consideration for the Hall of Fame, some voters are going to need to see some sustained statistical dominance in the regular season. Making a Pro Bowl certainly wouldn’t hurt.
The counter-argument: The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Lynn Swann finished his career with 5,462 receiving yards and 51 touchdown catches. It was a far tougher era to play wideout, but if Edelman can play a few more seasons at a high level, he has a shot to put Swann far into his rear-view mirror on some of the stat lists.
2. Edelman isn’t the best slot receiver in his era, nor in Patriots or league history. (See: Wes Welker)
This argument is basic: Until Welker is in the Hall of Fame, Edelman has no shot. Welker may not have the Super Bowl wins, but he has a claim to having turned the slot receiver position into a staple of NFL offenses. Also, Welker has the high-end regular-season numbers that Edelman lacks, including five Pro Bowls, four All-Pro nods and three seasons in which he led the league in catches. He had some sustained dominance but fell short on Super Bowl rings.
The counter-argument: Both players deserve to be in. Welker was the dominant regular-season player who had the bad luck of falling short in Super Bowls (0-3) but legitimized the slot as a marquee NFL position. And Edelman was the dominant postseason player who was a big difference in winning Super Bowls, despite having his regular season undercut by injuries or simply learning the slot position in his first few years.
3. The slot production and “overachiever” tag shouldn’t outweigh one simple question in a Hall of Fame conversation: Is Edelman the best of the best in his era?
The “Is he the best of the best” question was posed to me by a Hall of Fame voter. It’s a subjective inquiry, but it’s a very fair one. The Hall of Fame isn’t predicated on postseason results. People have held up Kurt Warner or even Terrell Davis as being guys who produced Hall of Fame careers on limited numbers or even largely on playoff performances. Here’s the problem with that argument: Both Warner and Davis were unquestionably the most dominant player at their positions in multiple seasons. They also had elite level runs in the regular season and playoffs. As for the shorter careers, Warner arrived to the NFL late, and Davis departed the league early due to injuries, yet there’s little question about whether either had some sustained dominance at their position. In their eras, they can certainly be considered the best of the best. Thus far, Edelman can’t make that claim outside of the playoffs.
The counter-argument: Edelman never had an offense run through him. Warner touched the ball every offensive play for both the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals, and had a scheme designed for him to exploit every opportunity. And despite Davis playing alongside John Elway for the Denver Broncos, he still had the offense streamlined through him inside a scheme that maximized the impact of running backs.
Meanwhile, Edelman has done his damage inside a Patriots offense that is designed to distribute the ball all over the field — actually decentralizing any given weapon. And you can argue the few times the offense was aimed at a given player, it was Randy Moss, Wes Welker or Rob Gronkowski who was gifted the focus of the game plans, not Edelman. In other words, Edelman hasn’t required an offense to be run through him to be a great contributor.
That’s a snapshot of the Hall of Fame questions awaiting Edelman. Right now, it’s clear talking to voters that he’s not considered a serious contender for enshrinement. And even if presented, a serious argument awaits. But it’s fair to note this is a fluid conversation that continues this week. One more ring, one more big Super Bowl performance and years left to climb the record books could shape this into a more realistic consideration than it will get anytime soon.
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