Patriots

Patriots

This should be a lot tougher for you than your gut is telling you.  

Don’t let recency bias sway you. Or the indelible images seared in your mind’s eye.

Above all, please don’t forget what a force Wes Welker was. From 2007 through 2012 these were his receptions, yards and touchdowns: 112-1175-8, 111-1165-3, 123-1348-4, 86-848-7, 122-1569-9, 118-1354-6.

The year he caught 86 (2010), he was coming back from a blown ACL suffered the previous January.

He caught 672 passes for 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns in New England, an average of 7.2 passes and 80 yards per game with a catch percentage of 72.6.

He caught another 69 passes for 686 yards and four touchdowns in the playoffs with a catch rate of 76.7. An average playoff game was 7.7 catches for 76.2 yards.

He also brought back 114 punts and averaged 10.4 yards per return (8 punts and a 10.6 return average in the playoffs). Welker was a four-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro. He missed three regular season games in six years with the Patriots.

Now, Julian Edelman.

To make this debate, let’s go with his six years as a starter – 2013 through 2018. His receptions-yards-touchdowns have been: 105-1056-6, 92-972-4, 61-692-7, 98-1106-3, 74-850-6. He’s also carried 36 times for 292 yards since 2013.

He’s missed 29 regular season games since 2013 so his cumulative stats for the same period – 430 catches for 4,676 yards and 26 touchdowns pale compared to Welker’s.

But Welker was also more productive on a per-game receiving basis as Edelman’s average game has been 6.4 catches for 69.8 yards with a catch rate of 67.2 percent.

 

Playoffs? That’s where Edelman laps Wes. In 13 postseason games since 2013, Edelman has 106 catches for 1,337 yards and three touchdowns. An average playoff game is 8.1 catches for 102 yards.

Edelman also returned 105 punts for 1,043 yards and a touchdown (9.9 average). He’s taken back 32 punts at an average of 10.6 (same return average as Welker; way more returns).

Now, as we stage this debate we are still in the afterglow of Edelman’s SB53 performance which earned him an MVP and propelled him into the conversation as the best postseason receiver of all time not named Jerry Rice.

It would logically follow that that honorific puts him in HOF consideration but there was considerable resistance to that notion because, well, Edelman just doesn’t LOOK like an all-time great wide receiver so it’s got to be something else propping him up – Tom Brady, the Patriots system, asshole New Englanders who are under the impression NFL history began in 2001.

I’ve run amok.

Anyway, the objectively astounding work of Edelman which is chockful of memorable plays – the touchdown pass against the Ravens, the catch-and-run after Kam Chancellor’s hit and the game-winning touchdown in the 2014 run; the amazing catch in the 2016 run and his work in this past postseason.

Welker? As the years pass and Lombardis are stacked, focus is placed on the championships that got away and the missed connection between Welker and Brady that would have sealed the 2011 Super Bowl has become the primary memory many summon when they think of Welker.

To the point where it overshadows how truly great he was. At 5-foot-9, 185 pounds he was a true slot receiver. Despite the drop we can’t drop, he probably had better hands than Edelman. He was more durable. He was as good a punt returner. Welker was a superior route-runner.

Edelman is stronger. He’s better after the catch. He’s far more versatile in terms of being able to play inside or outside (and throw). The route-running gap has narrowed as Edelman’s become more experienced at the position. Edelman’s physicality, intensity and willingness to instigate during games and fight during practices has to also be factored into the debate. Maybe that stuff would be frowned upon in an insurance office. It is – to a point – helpful in professional football.  

Despite all the similarities people see, they are very different personalities. They are friends but not overly friendly.

Edelman, as he told me when we did his memoir Relentless in 2017, drove Welker crazy with questions and eagerness. Edelman made absolutely no bones about his intention to make it in the NFL by any means necessary and if that meant hovering around Brady to ingratiate himself, he would do that. Welker, not surprisingly, met that with a figurative eye-roll.

Welker also was more willing to give pushback. Whether it was with Bill Belichick or Tom Brady, he was more prone to question and push back against authority than Edelman is despite all the fire and passion in Edelman’s game.

 

Around here, this conversation may not seem like much of a debate. Edelman’s better than Welker. And that’s because of specific plays.

Since 2013, Edelman’s played 82 games including playoffs and caught 536 balls for 6,013 yards with 29 touchdowns.

Over an equal time span, Welker played 102 games including playoffs and caught 741 passes for 8,145 yards and 41 TDs.

Welker’s average game was 7.3 catches for 79.85 yards. Edelman’s was 6.5 catches for 73.3 yards.

Julian Edelman is the better football player and has had – despite no Pro Bowls or All-Pro honors – the more storied career. But Wes Welker was the better receiver over the same span.

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