FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was talking about one of his best friends and favorite targets — wide receiver Julian Edelman — when he sparked an unexpected media-based debate last week.
“He’ll be in the Patriot Hall of Fame, and he could be a Pro Football Hall of Famer at some point, too,” Brady said during his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI. “What he’s accomplished in his career is nothing short of spectacular.”
Brady obviously isn’t the most objective observer. But, does he have a point?
Edelman isn’t often mentioned among the NFL’s elite — a recent poll by The Athletic soliciting the opinion of coaches and scouts rated him below the category of sure-fire No. 1 — yet few can match his postseason résumé.
Edelman entered 2019 second in NFL history with 115 postseason receptions, behind only Jerry Rice (151). He is one of 15 players with at least 1,000 postseason receiving yards, with his 1,412 second behind only Rice (2,245).
He also has six playoff games in which he’s totaled 100 receiving yards, tying him with Michael Irvin for second all-time behind Rice (8).
The numbers reflect the three-time Super Bowl champion as one of this era’s best big-game players, with Bill Belichick calling him “one of the most competitive players I’ve coached.” Edelman’s postseason résumé includes an epic diving, turf-scraping catch in Super Bowl LI that helped spark an unprecedented second-half comeback win against the Atlanta Falcons, and the MVP award in Super Bowl LIII.
Given the strong odds the Patriots will be back in the playoffs this season, Edelman, assuming good health, is well positioned to keep chipping away at Rice’s records. He was flattered by Brady’s reference to the Hall of Fame but, staying true to his approach, said his only focus is Monday’s game against the New York Jets at Met Life Stadium (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Edelman leads the Patriots with 38 receptions for 449 yards and two touchdowns this season, and Brady will rely on him even more with No. 2 receiver Josh Gordon (knee/ankle) ruled out Monday.
As for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, two of the 48 voters shared their viewpoints on Edelman.
Highlight catches help
“I really like Julian Edelman, and remember when he first got there. To see him grow from those humble beginnings to really being a legitimate weapon speaks well for him,” said longtime NFL reporter Jarrett Bell of USA Today. “I think when you start talking about Hall of Fame, it’s going to be tough because he’s got so much competition from not only guys you look at in this era — the elite receivers, all-decade guys — but also all the players who might be similar to him in his era and before him, slot-receiver type of guys like Wes Welker. The thing that will really help him is the fact he has some big catches. Highlight catches. Obviously the one in the Super Bowl comeback is legendary.
“In addition, there’s the team, from the Patriots’ standpoint. They’ve had so many great teams and you say, ‘How many of these guys are Hall of Famers?’ I’m thinking Brady. [Adam] Vinatieri. You had Ty Law last year. Richard Seymour is in the conversation. But what about [Willie] McGinest? Rodney Harrison?
“So where would Edelman fit in the pantheon of great Patriot players? He is one of the great Patriots, there’s no doubt about that, but when you start talking about it at the Hall of Fame level … The longevity helps, too. And they’re not done, yet. So I would never dismiss it, but those are some of the factors.”
Injuries earlier in Edelman’s career, followed by a foot injury that cost him the final seven games of the 2015 season and a torn ACL that had him on injured reserve for all of 2017, have limited his numbers overall (537 catches, 5,839 yards, 32 TDs in the regular season). In addition, Edelman had a four-game suspension to open the 2018 season for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
Alex Marvez, a SiriusXM NFL Radio host and at-large Hall of Fame voter, echoes Bell’s sentiment that Edelman is still building his résumé.
“Edelman is among the most prolific and clutch wide receivers in postseason history, and I believe the top target of the greatest quarterback of all time [Brady] based upon the longevity and productivity the two have enjoyed. That should go a long way with voters. Potential weaknesses: Edelman has modest regular-season receiving numbers, especially when compared to other Hall of Fame wideouts. He has struggled to stay healthy, completing just two 16-game seasons, and a four-game PED suspension will likely figure into the minds of some voters who may be wondering whether Edelman was ‘clean’ throughout his NFL career.
“All this being said … the book isn’t written yet on his NFL accomplishments and may not be for some time based on the way he is playing. That’s why it’s too early to guess whether he will ultimately get the nod.”
Adam Gase impressed
For his part, Jets coach Adam Gase doesn’t argue with anyone who puts Edelman in the elite category.
“I’ve seen him play so much. He’s worked over some of the teams I’ve been on before, so he’s always a guy we’ve had to game-plan for, he’s always a guy we’ve had to try to contain,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever really been a part of it where I walked out of the game and was like, ‘We shut him down.’ That’s just not going to happen. He does exactly what those guys need him to do, as far as what they want to do schematically. When you have a guy that is trusted by a Hall of Fame quarterback, his impact in games is going to always be critical.”
Since Gase became the Denver Broncos offensive coordinator in 2013 and continuing to his time as coach of the Miami Dolphins (2016-18) and Jets (2019), he has watched as Edelman has totaled 59 receptions for 663 yards and seven touchdowns against him over seven games.
He said Edelman reminds him of former Patriots receivers Welker and Danny Amendola, joking that “it’s like they are cloning guys up there.”
“What makes him such a tough cover is he does a great job with the stem of his routes,” Gase said, adding that Edelman plays hard on every snap. “He makes things look the same. He does a great job, after he catches the ball, of getting vertical. His run-after-catch has really been something — he’s created a lot of yards. He’s one of those guys, there’s so much he can do — inside, outside, No. 3 in a 3×1. He’s a tough guy to game-plan for. You have to be ready for a lot of stuff.”
Brady also pointed out that Edelman “does all the dirty work,” such as blocking, while noting “his day-to-day mentality really sets the tone for everybody.”
“We put Julian in a position to do all the toughest jobs basically. That’s what he relishes. Those things can’t go unnoticed, because when he’s not in there, you can see the difference it has on our offense,” Brady said. “He does a lot of things that a lot of other players in the NFL can’t do.”
Edelman has been doing it with injured ribs since Jets defensive lineman Henry Anderson landed on him late in the second quarter of the Patriots’ 30-14 win on Sept. 22. Belichick compared Edelman to Patriots Hall of Famer Troy Brown — which is the highest praise.
“Julian’s a tough kid, always has been. He showed that in college, showed it in his rookie year here  and all the way through his career,” Belichick said. “He fights for every yard, he’s a competitive blocker, he’s got excellent playing strength and plays bigger than what his size is [5-foot-10, 198 pounds] because of his leverage, pad level and just overall physical and mental toughness.”
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels noted Edelman “arrived at this place over many years.” Because of that, many of the Patriots’ young receivers look to him as an example to follow.
“You can take little things — his releases, his footwork during the course of routes, the way he tries to make something different, or maybe make two things look the same when he’s trying to play off of one another,” McDaniels said. “He’s very, very tough. He’s physical and he does a great job of protecting the ball when the ball’s in the air because he comes downhill; he doesn’t get undercut.”
All of which has helped Edelman average 6.4 receptions per game since 2013, which is the fifth-highest average in the NFL over that span, behind Antonio Brown (7.5), Julio Jones (6.9), Michael Thomas (6.8) and Odell Beckham Jr. (6.6). He’s also a top punt returner, but the Patriots have lightened his load on those duties this season.
Brady called him “one of the greats in the NFL, no doubt.” But a Pro Football Hall of Famer?
It’s a story still being written, and a few more decisive postseason chapters could cement the ending.