In the dankest parts of the Patriots deep web, Julian Edelman is already a Hall of Famer. After Edelman’s Super Bowl MVP performance on Sunday, a few isolated cries from a growing chorus of Massholes spilled into the mainstream like clam chowder spilling onto a carpet. On Sunday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter, CBS’ Nate Burleson, and Fox Sports’ Jason Whitlock joined the movement, saying that Edelman is a player worthy of induction into Canton.
This feels like the place to note that Edelman has fewer career receiving yards than Brandon LaFell, fewer career receptions than Jerricho Cotchery, and fewer career touchdowns than Kenny Britt (and Ted Ginn Jr. and LaFell). Just having this debate feels preposterous, and that’s before we even get into whether anyone cares about the Hall of Fame. Edelman’s Canton candidacy is nonexistent if you consider only his regular-season accomplishments, but therein lies the problem: There is a strong case to be made after this postseason that Edelman is the second-best receiver in NFL playoff history. If he continues his career at anywhere near the pace he is on, he has an outside shot at usurping Jerry Rice for the no. 1 spot. When you look at it that way, how could a player like that not make the Hall of Fame?
Edelman, who missed the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL, was suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. As Nancy Armour of USA Today pointed out, if Edelman were an MLB player, he would have been suspended for the playoffs. It speaks to the chasm between baseball and football that for the seventh year in a row Barry Bonds did not collect enough votes to make the baseball Hall of Fame, but Edelman was voted Super Bowl MVP in the same season he served a PED suspension.
But before we get to Edelman’s Hall of Fame case, let’s recap his dominant performance on Sunday. He caught 10 of his 12 targets for 141 receiving yards and eight first downs and was voted Super Bowl MVP by a combination of fan and media ballots, becoming the seventh wide receiver to win the award. He entered halftime with more receiving yards (93) than the Rams had total yards (57). Though Edelman didn’t reach the end zone, he was completely uncoverable (and the lone non-punter to do anything remotely interesting). Giving Edelman space didn’t work out, but neither did playing close to him at the line of scrimmage. Here’s Edelman leaving Rams cornerback Marcus Peters in the dust from the jump and then lowering his shoulder into Aqib Talib to get the first down.
Here’s Edelman putting Nickell Robey-Coleman on ice so slippery he sends him past the other set of hashmarks and out of the frame altogether.
The Pats managed to get Edelman clean releases by putting him in motion, lining him just behind the line of scrimmage, or both, and he torched whatever defensive back was across from him. And the plays when the Rams tried to put a linebacker on him went about as well as you’d think.
“What makes him a Hall of Famer in my eyes is when the postseason comes around—and granted, I get it, it’s the Patriots, they get there more often—[but] he is one of the most clutch wide receivers I have ever seen,” Burleson said on CBS’ postgame show. “Check the numbers.”
The numbers back up that case surprisingly well. Edelman entered Sunday as one of two players (along with Rice) with more than 100 catches in the playoffs, and after Edelman’s 141-yard performance on Sunday, he moved to second in playoff receiving yards behind Rice. It’s wild when anyone is mentioned in the same breath as Jerry Rice, considering how utterly untouchable Rice’s regular-season records are, but it’s even wilder to realize nobody stands between Rice and Edelman.
Edelman moved to no. 1 all time in playoff targets on Sunday, so it’s not shocking he is second all time in playoff receiving yards or catches. But the volume of targets actually obscures Edelman’s efficiency. Among wide receivers who have played seven or more playoff games, Edelman is 13th all time in receiving yards per game, behind Michael Irvin and ahead of Rice. That’s pretty high, but if we start counting from 2013, when Edelman truly took over as a primary receiving option after Wes Welker’s departure—Edelman had 14 targets in five playoff games as a do-it-all role player from 2009 to 2012 while still learning the position as a convert from quarterback—Edelman’s receiving yards per playoff game jumps to just about 103 yards per game, putting him just behind Larry Fitzgerald and Julio Jones for third all time.
There’s also the intangible factor that Edelman is just clutch—a gamer, if you will. Tom Brady is the undisputed greatest player of all time, and Edelman is Brady’s undisputed favorite target in the undisputed most important games. There’s no way to quantify that!
Actually, there is, and Edelman scores really well. Since 1994, which is as far back as play-by-play data goes, Edelman has caught more passes for first downs in the playoffs than anyone else. Edelman’s also been productive when it counts. Who a quarterback turns to on third down in the playoffs is a rough but fair rubric of “clutchness” for receivers. Since 1994, 158 players have had 10 or more targets on third down in the playoffs. Of those players, Edelman is tied for first in targets on third down, is alone in first in first downs on those throws, and tied for fifth in first downs per target.
This methodology isn’t perfect—particularly because it goes back to only 1994, and it’s a good bet that Jerry Rice would put all of these numbers to shame—but it makes any case about Edelman’s legacy a lot more legitimate. But if Edelman actually passes Rice and can claim he is the best playoff receiver ever, he might have a legit Hall of Fame case. He is 833 receiving yards and 36 receptions from passing Rice in both categories. Edelman needs only another couple of playoff runs to crack Rice’s receptions mark and could snag the receiving mark with three or four more playoff runs. It might seem presumptuous to assume the 32-year-old Edelman even has four more seasons left, but the three-game stretch he just completed from the divisional round through the Super Bowl was the best three-game stretch of his career, regular season or postseason.
After the game, Edelman joined ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown desk and former teammate Randy Moss showered him with praise.
Super Bowl LIII MVP @Edelman11 with a great story about playing with @RandyMoss pic.twitter.com/UsqjSLIEBn— ESPN (@espn) February 4, 2019
“I’ve never been an MVP, let alone a Super Bowl MVP man, I am proud of you bro, way to persevere.”