Whether overrated or underrated, Julian Edelman can’t do it all

Andy Hart
June 04, 2020 - 12:45 pm
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They are seemingly simple questions that elicit rather varied, complex, emotional answers even inside the friendly borders of Patriot Nation.

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Just how good is Patriots slot receiver Julian Edelman?

Where does Edelman rank among NFL receivers at this point in his career?

Pro Football Focus revealed its top 50 NFL players for 2020 this week, which included seven wide receivers. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, New England’s best player at this point, earned a slot. As arguably the Patriots second-best player (Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, Joe Thuney might be in that mix), Edelman was nowhere to be found in PFF’s rundown.

Previously, PFF also ranked the Edelman-led Patriots as having the 30th best group of wide receivers in the NFL.

Certainly PFF’s proprietyary grade-based rankings are rather subjective and at times utterly misleading.

Statistically, Edelman ranked sixth in the NFL last season with exactly 100 receptions, just the second 100-catch season in his 11-year career.

Edelman ranked 18th in the league a year ago with a career-high 1,117 yards receiving.

He tied with then-Texan DeAndre Hopkins for 74th in the NFL with an 11.2-yard average.

His six touchdown catches, tied for the second most of his career, ranked tied for 24th in the NFL.

Edelman also led the league in drops in 2019, though much of that could have been related to the injuries he battled for most of the year, including a somewhat debilitating shoulder issue that clearly limited his ability lift his arms above his head and restricted his range of motion.

Beyond the drops, another number that clearly hinders Edelman’s value moving forward is his age. Less than a month past his 34th birthday, Edelman would be considered old for almost any position, never mind the slot receiver role that takes a massive toll on the body. Wes Welker, for example, fell off the map at the age of 33 and his career was over shortly thereafter, in large part due to physical issues, including concussions.

The harsh reality is that Edelman is on borrowed time these days, regardless of how hard he’s working out or how buff he looks on Instagram with his shirt off.

2020: New face mask, same routine

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

One could argue given the physical requirements of the slot role and the physical beating it entails, JE11’s continued production is as impressive as what Tom Brady’s TB12 Method has supposedly allowed him to do at the well-protected quarterback spot.

But how realistic is it to expect it to continue at such a high rate?

Is Edelman a top-10 NFL receiver at this point, as his receptions total might suggest?

Sorry, no.

Is he top-20 as his yardage total would slot him?

Maybe, but it’s still a tough sell.

Is he being passed up by the impressive number of young stars and rising talents at the receiver position?

Certainly.

Proving his worth and piling up the statics likely won’t get any easier for Edelman in 2020.

Sure, he’s the clear No. 1 option for the Patriots to target early and often. No one will know that more than opposing defenses who’ll focus on No. 11 every single snap.

He’ll also go to the field for the first time in his career without Brady, – sure, he was productive with 19 catches in four games with Brady suspended to open the 2016 season – needing to forge a rapport with presumed first-time starter Jarrett Stidham, who at best will be a work in progress this fall.

Though he’s never made the Pro Bowl, some even try to argue that Edelman is a Hall of Fame talent based primarily on his immense postseason production – only Jerry Rice (151 catches for 2,245 yards ) has more playoff receptions/yards than Edelman’s 118/1,442 -- during the Patriots many playoff runs over the course of his career.

The Hall of Fame argument is hard to make, especially considering the relatively modest numbers he’s put up over the years in the regular season in a pass-happy era after taking over for Welker back in 2013.

It’s also getting harder and harder to argue for Edelman among the best receivers in the NFL.

Of course proving people wrong is old hat for a guy who went from undersized college QB at Kent State to NFL stardom.

What does Edelman have left in the tank? Is he capable of putting up big numbers even without Brady as he moves well into his mid-30s? Is he still among the top receivers in the NFL?

Much like Bill Belichick and the Patriots team as a whole, New England’s best offensive player Edelman faces more questions than ever heading into 2020.

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