Patriots

Patriots

Julian Edelman is a 33-year-old, 5-10, 186-pound wide receiver whose inclusion on any list of the NFL’s best wide receivers leads to mass gaslighting.

“Edelman? Julian Edelman? Dear God, be more Boston. You can’t. I have a dozen friends who could walk out in jeans and catch eight passes for 80 yards from Brady doing what Edelman does.”

The outrage. The derision. The allegations of parochial sensibilities gone wild and a curious willingness to embrace the plucky white guy. All of it comes cascading down.

Anyone who knows anything, we are told, understands that Edelman is a propped-up, photogenic widget. We only know his name because he happens to fit the suit previously worn by Troy Brown and Wes Welker.

Nobody’s falling for the banana in the tailpipe and pretending that Julian “Right Place, Right Time” Edelman is anything but a byproduct of his surroundings. Everybody out there is too sharp for that.

Evidence?

These wide receivers listed ahead of Edelman on the most recent edition of the NFL’s Top 100:

  2019 Ranking 2018 Ranking
Antonio Brown 6th 2nd
Julio Jones 9th 4th
DeAndre Hopkins 11th 13th
Michael Thomas 13th 81st
Tyreek Hill 19th 40th
Odell Beckham Jr. 23rd 77th
Adam Thielen 33rd 36th
Davante Adams 35th 45th
Keenan Allen 38th 41st
JuJu Smith-Schuster 47th --
Mike Evans 53rd --
A.J. Green 58th 22nd
Larry Fitzgerald 60th 27th
Amari Cooper 64th --
T.Y. Hilton 70th --
Stefon Diggs 73rd 65th
Robert Woods 76th --
Jarvis Landry 84th 52nd
Julian Edelman 90th --

Nineteenth. The 19th best wideout going into the league as voted on by his peers.

Edelman cannot be one of the best wide receivers in the league because he doesn’t look like what a great wideout is supposed to look like. His playing style is different, he doesn’t run similar routes, he’s not a “score from anywhere on the field threat,” he doesn’t jump over cornerbacks and he can’t catch the  ball with two fingers.

 

Those things, we are supposed to believe, are the attributes necessary to get in the conversation.

If Edelman really were great, wouldn’t his fantasy rankings at wide receiver have been better than 19, 26, 37, 24, 23 and 20 (so far this season). That’s the measure of the player, right there!

All of that, in my opinion, is so heartwrenchingly backward, I weep for America’s youth.

Because Edelman makes it easier on his quarterback, he is downgraded. If he were on the receiving end of more balletic, tight-window catches on the sideline that his quarterback has to fit through a keyhole, then we’d have something.

The waterbug, ankle-breaking routine in short areas and the willingness to take and deliver punishment after the catch? Who couldn’t do that?

Honestly? From the list of guys ahead of him? Not many. Fitz? Landry? Mike Thomas? Most of them are either too slight to take the pounding, too long-legged to run the inside routes Edelman does and/or not elusive enough after the catch to do what Edelman is doing.

And what’s that? Why this Ode To Edelman on a Monday morning in October?

Because in his past 12 games — from the Miami game in Week 14 last year, through three playoff games and the first five weeks of this year — Edelman has 116 catches for 1,009 yards.

So far this year, he’s got 41 catches on 29 targets for 336 yards. He’s played exactly half the season with a bruised sternum suffered just before halftime in Week 3 against the Jets. Sunday, he caught eight of the nine passes he was thrown for 110 yards and a touchdown. He was turned upside down. He was landed on. He dove and landed on the ball. All with a chest injury that makes it difficult for most people to go from lying down to sitting up never mind competing in the NFL.

“He’s one of the best players in the history of the franchise...,” Tom Brady said Monday morning on WEEI. “What he’s gone through the last few weeks with his injury and still laying it on the line...the more we get him the ball, the better it is for our offense.”

Edelman is out there with the injury and being as targeted as often as he is because, well, if not him then who? Who is Tom Brady going to target with downfield throws?

Josh Gordon seems slowed since the beating he took a couple weeks back against the Jets. Phillip Dorsett banged out with a hamstring injury on Sunday after just four snaps. Even if both of them were full-go, Gordon runs lower-percentage routes that take a moment to develop and Dorsett is never going to be confused with a player that makes a defense quake.

 

Edelman and James White are really the only receivers Brady has that he feels will deliver consistently. Hence, pounding it to him against the Bills and Redskins even when his chest feels like there’s a rhino sitting on it. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Edelman’s not looking for a ribbon for doing that. And Bill Belichick’s not handing them out.

“Julian’s a tough kid, always has been,” Belichick said on his Monday conference call. “He showed that in college, showed it his rookie year here and all the way through his career. So, he fights for every yard, he’s a competitive blocker, he’s got excellent playing strength and plays bigger than what his size is because of his leverage, pad level and just overall physical and mental toughness. So, he’s done a great job for us, continues to do that and he’s one of the most competitive players I’ve coached.”

It would be interesting to get Belichick on truth serum and hear what his real opinion is when comparing an Edelman (or a Welker or a Troy Brown) to an Antonio Brown, a Randy Moss, a Keenan Allen or an A.J. Green.

To me, Edelman is as vital to the Patriots offense as oil to an engine. A field-stretcher, no matter how historic? Vital as a sunroof.

But in the league’s economic view, Edelman isn’t “worth” as much as a player like  Antonio Brown. At least monetarily.

The Patriots were fine giving Brown $15M for his 2019 services (he gave them 11 days and 24 plays before his act proved too much for ownership to take, but that’s a side-issue). Edelman, meanwhile, is working on a two-year, $15.5M deal.

Monetarily? Half the player Brown is.

That’s the system. Players like Brown are overvalued because they seem unique. Players like Edelman are undervalued because they seem like a Joe on the street. Belichick and the Patriots are part of the system because the demand league-wide for players like Edelman is low.

If the polls say it, the rankings say it and the salaries say it, what evidence argues it’s not true? Production numbers. Visual evidence. Wins. Losses. Super Bowl rings.

Disclosure: I wrote a book with Edelman in 2017 called “Relentless.” I went to his house in Redwood City, California while researching the book. His father, Frank, insisted I stay with the family. As it turned out, they gave me Julian’s room. So I had to — at 49 — sleep in his bed. This in no way colors any of the reporting or opining preceding this disclosure. In fact, it makes me feel … weird.

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