The last thing anybody wants to do on the occasion of a player’s retirement is to throw water on the barbecue when it comes to recalling his greatness. And in the case of now-former Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, there’s a lot to recall. Of all the receivers Tom Brady threw to, there were few Brady trusted more in the clutch than Edelman. And I can say that from a personal standpoint, I’ve never seen any football player work harder in the offseason than Edelman when I saw him at Travelle Gaines’ Los Angeles gym a decade ago, back when Edelman wasn’t yet what he became. You had a feeling, though, that he wouldn’t stop until he got as far as his talent would allow.
That he did. However, the praise for Edelman’s career seems to have gone a bit off the rails. There appears to be a vocal contingent who believes that Edelman should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as soon after his retirement as possible.
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) April 12, 2021
Again, this is a great player … but if we’re going there, we have to be realistic.
Taking the whole of Edelman’s career — 2009 through 2020 — does him no favors whatsoever on the all-time list, because he was a late bloomer. He caught 37 passes in his rookie year, a total of 11 in the next two seasons, and then 21 in 2012 before his numbers really started to tick up. So, from 2009 through 2020, Edelman ranks 23rd in targets (941), 17th in receptions (620), 34th in receiving yards (6,822), and tied with Zach Ertz at 54th with 36 receiving touchdowns.
Even if we were to do Edelman a favor and narrow it down to his prime years of 2013 through 2019, he still ranks 11th in targets (793), eighth in receptions (530), 16th in receiving yards (5,793), and tied with Jarvis Landry, DeSean Jackson, Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill with 32 touchdowns. Antonio Brown had the most touchdown catches in that particular era with 68. I mean, Michael Crabtree had more touchdown receptions than Edelman did during that time.
Of course, Edelman’s postseason numbers are special, and this is where those who believe he should be a Hall of Famer will rest their arguments. Only Jerry Rice has more postseason catches (118) and receiving yards (1,442) than Edelman, and though Edelman obviously did not define his offenses as Rice did, there’s a lot to say about what Edelman has done in the playoffs.
Sadly, it’s just not enough to put him in Canton. He doesn’t fit what Bill James called the “black type” criteria — he never led the league in a single statistical category in a season. He never made a Pro Bowl and was never named an All-Pro, and that stuff counts when the Hall of Fame voters gather the day before every Super Bowl to figure out who’s worthy of induction. He did have three 1,000-yard seasons, and we’re not discounting his postseason work, but he’d have to have accomplished far more in his regular seasons to be taken seriously as a candidate.
Pro Football Reference has a “Hall of Fame Monitor,” which combines their Approximate Value metric with Pro Bowls, All-Pro nods, championships and various statistical milestones. Even with his postseason performances added in, Edelman has an HOFm of 36.18, which isn’t even close to breaking the tape.
Moreover, there’s the estimable backlog of receivers who belong in the Hall and aren’t yet in because the waiting period at that position has become quite daunting. Cliff Branch, Otis Taylor, Jimmy Smith, Harold Jackson, Sterling Sharpe, Torry Holt … the list of names goes on and on when it comes to receivers who should be considered before Edelman is, and to induct him before so many others would be an insult to those and other great players.
Not that Julian Edelman wasn’t a great player — at his peak, he absolutely was. He’s just not in the Hall of Fame class, and that’s perfectly fine. Edelman mined the ore of his talents as much as any other player of his era, and that’s more than enough for which to remember him fondly.