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Curran: In a duel of Perfect Patriots, is it Edelman or Troy Brown?

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A nice rack of ribs? Or a perfectly cooked ribeye? Perfectly sunny and 75? Or partly sunny and 81? I could keep going. But you know what I’m driving at. Some things are so eminently acceptable and good that there is no truly RIGHT answer.

But is there room for waffling when it comes to the Top 50 Patriots Under Bill Belichick?!?! No. No waffling.

So I have to make a decision when this list is unveiled next week: Which Perfect Patriot do I list first: Troy Brown or Julian Edelman?

Patriots Talk Podcast: Top 50 of the Belichick era debate: Julian Edelman vs. Troy Brown | Listen & Follow | Watch on YouTube

Edelman was drafted in the seventh round. Brown was drafted in the eighth round.

Edelman did every little thing he was asked to do -- catch, block, return punts and even defense. And Brown did all of those things first.

Edelman oozed toughness, competitiveness and relentlessness and gave the Patriots receiver corps a “dog” mentality. Hi. Troy too.

Biggest games, biggest plays? Both. Both, both, both. Over and over again.

Curran: Why it's time to update the Top 50 Under Belichick list

"I look at Jules and Troy and they just break down neck-and-neck in a lot of those categories," Devin McCourty said when I asked his opinion. "I just think you pick one or two things that makes a difference. I don't know who has the higher punt return average or kick return average? To me, it’s those little things. I think their impact is very similar."

 

Scott Zolak played six years with Brown, all under Bill Parcells. Zolak’s seen every play of Edelman’s career as a media member and as the color analyst on the team’s radio calls.

I asked Zo, “I shouldn’t go Julian Edelman over Troy Brown, should I?”

There was a long pause.

"That’s a tough one for me because I played with Troy and I think the world of Troy," he said. "I’d put Edelman over him. Postseason numbers. The third down catches, the punt returns -- not that Troy didn’t do that. Edelman wouldn’t be Edelman if it wasn’t for Troy."

Which is what McCourty pointed out as well.

“When Jules came in to play defense (during the 2011 regular season and playoffs), what do we watch in the squad meeting to explain why this is gonna work?” asked McCourty. “We watched Troy play defense (during the 2004 season). What do we hear about Troy every year I've been here? His best moments were in the biggest games. When you think of Jules what do you think about? His best moments were in the biggest games."

If you go by the numbers under Belichick, here’s how it breaks down.

Troy had 420 regular season catches for 4,539 yards and 23 touchdown catches from 2000 to 2007. He carried 28 times for 196 yards. He returned 148 punts for 1,569 yards (10.6 average) and three touchdowns.

Edelman, from 2009 through 2020, had 620 catches for 6,822 yards and 36 touchdowns. He carried 58 times for 413 yards. He returned 177 punts for 1,986 yards (11.2 average) and four touchdowns.

Troy Brown vs. Julian Edelman

In the Patriots' Super Bowl runs in 2001 and 2003, Brown was targeted 48 times and had 35 catches for 428 yards. In 14 playoff games, he returned 25 punts, the most memorable one being the 55-yard touchdown in Pittsburgh that got the Patriots on the board first in the AFCCG. Brown’s heady scoop and lateral later in the game led to another touchdown in that game that put the Patriots on track for New Orleans.

Edelman played 19 playoff games for the Patriots, had 118 catches, 1,442 yards and five touchdowns. He carried 11 times for another 81 yards and a touchdown. He threw a touchdown when the Patriots were in "gotta have it" mode against the Ravens in the 2014 Divisional Playoffs. The plays he’s made are legend.

Objectively, Edelman did more for Belichick’s Patriots than Brown did in terms of production. Still …

“I think Troy Brown is your No. 2 (on the overall list),” said Christian Fauria who, like Zolak, played with Brown and has covered Edelman.

“I had Vince (Wilfork) at No. 2 in 2015,” I answered.

“I see that,” Fauria countered. “I think Troy Brown is your No. 2.”

“But Vince was recognized as a better player league-wide,” I said.

Tom E. Curran's Top 50 Players Under Belichick, circa 2015

“He was but that's where your criteria kind of throws me,” said Fauria. “Is it league-wide or team impact/difference maker for your team? I do think you get extra points for being a foundational guy. The guy that made the sacrifices, kind of set the tone.

 

"Like, I think Tedy (Bruschi, No. 3 in 2015) is a great player, a great player for this team. But you know, Troy Brown was Mr. Patriot first, wasn't he? Like the Perfect Patriot? He was like the first in a line of slot receivers … and I do think, you know, you get extra points for being a foundational guy, the guy that made the sacrifices, set the tone. … “

These guys are going to be close on the list. Somebody has to go first, though.

McCourty offered some counsel.

“You have to be like, ‘All right, this guy gets the edge because he led in receptions or he’s second to Jerry Rice in every playoff category,’ ” he began. “When you put one guy at nine and one guy at 10, when I see that, that's the same thing.

"I’d just think, ‘All right, he struggled with that. He picked this guy because there was probably one thing where he edged him out. But I think theoretically people that see the list will know that it could have went either way.”

Editor's note: Tom E. Curran's Top 50 players under Bill Belichick, 2.0, will be released beginning Monday, June 28 right here on NBCSportsBoston.com.