Given that the Pro Football Hall of Fame announces its annual class the week of the Super Bowl, it's hardly surprising that the candidacy of the players taking part in football's biggest game would be a topic of discussion leading up to game time.
This year was no different, and earlier this week, the internet buzzed with arguments for and against the worthiness of New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman. On Sunday night in Atlanta, Edelman made his own case.
It was a compelling one—in scorching the Rams with 10 catches for 141 yards and helping spur the Pats to a record-tying sixth Lombardi Trophy while winning MVP honors, Edelman solidified his status as a legitimate contender to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio, one day.
Boomer Esiason of CBS Sports got the brouhaha started in earnest last week when he called Edelman a Hall of Famer while talking to WEEI Radio.
"Is Julian Edelman not a Hall of Famer? I know his numbers in the regular season don't add up to Antonio Brown, AJ Green or Julio Jones," Esiason said, "but his numbers are awesome in the playoffs. He's right behind Jerry Rice. Considering these guys are still doing it, he might get a few more years in the playoffs to add to those numbers. The guy is clutch in the biggest of games. I don't know what else to tell you. He is, in my eyes, truly the definition of a Hall of Famer: make the play when the play needs to be made in the biggest games to win the game."
Can we call that a word now?
Outside of the Boston metro area, the majority seemed to believe that while Edelman is a very good player, he's not worthy of serious consideration as a Hall of Famer.
Those detractors made some valid points. In nine NFL seasons since being drafted in the seventh round in 2009, Edelman has never been named an All-Pro or even selected to the Pro Bowl. Just twice in those nine seasons did Edelman top 1,000 yards. Only once did he exceed 100 catches. And the former collegiate quarterback has never so much as finished in the top 10 in receiving yards in a season.
That settled that.
And then Super Bowl LIII happened—and we were all reminded that Edelman's so much more than just his raw stats.
In a game choked with stars at the game's skill positions, it was Edelman who stood head and shoulders above everybody else. All night long Edelman essentially got open at will, running razor-sharp routes, catching just about everything thrown at him and beating the Rams inside and out—underneath and down the field.
The Rams knew Edelman was killing them. And there wasn't a thing they could do about it.
In hindsight, Edelman's explosion shouldn't have been as surprising as it was. He's made a career of making the big catch when Brady needs him to the most—like his ridiculous grab in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI.
He's also made a habit of stepping up in the biggest of games. Super Bowl LIII marked the second time this postseason and sixth time overall that he's topped 100 receiving yards in a playoff game. Four of those outings have come in his last two postseasons.
Among all NFL receivers, only Jerry Rice has more catches or receiving yards in the postseason than Julian Edelman.
The game capped an outstanding rebound season for Edelman, who missed all of the 2017 season (and the team's loss in Super Bowl LII) with a torn ACL.
After the game, Edelman told the NFL Network that he treated Sunday's game the same way he did all of this season—as an opportunity to overcome adversity.
"Tough times don't last," Edelman said. "Tough people do. When you keep your head down, and you work hard, and you don't worry about the noise and what everyone's telling you and what everyone's saying, and you worry about things you can control—good things happen."
That's just about the most Edelman quote ever. The mantra of a true grinder.
As the confetti settled at Mercedes-Benz, Adam Schefter of ESPN fired up the discussion again on Twitter—and was mostly roasted for it.
No, Edelman's career numbers in the regular season aren't especially impressive. In nine seasons played, Edelman has 499 catches for 5,390 yards and 30 scores. On the surface, those numbers aren't blowing anyone away.
But Edelman's value to the greatest dynasty in modern NFL history goes well beyond the numbers. The Patriots aren't a team that's going to target a receiver over and over and over—unless he's open. The ball is going to be spread around. The game plan can vary wildly from week to week.
And to his credit, unlike many high-end receivers, Edelman has never pouted if he wasn't regularly targeted 15 times a game.
But seemingly every time the Patriots have ever needed a big game or big catch from Edelman, he's delivered—especially on the biggest stages.
If you think that postseason success and heroics can't get a player most of the way to Canton, then you've never seen the entire list of inductees.
The Welker vs. Edelman debate is that of big numbers in the regular season vs. success in the playoffs. And in any event, it's not an either/or proposition—cases for induction can be made for both.
No one's saying Edelman's a first-ballot inductee. Or even a lock to get in. He's going to need to finish his career strong. Some more big games in the postseason would certainly help.
And the Edelman vs. Calvin Johnson argument was…stop. Just please…stop.
But dismissing Edelman's greatness simply due to a lack of gaudy statistics is just as foolish as comparing him to Megatron. Without elite size or elite speed or elite anything, Edelman has carved out a fantastic career as an integral part of a Patriots team that has been to four of the last five Super Bowls and will no doubt open 2019 as the favorites to represent the AFC in Miami.
In an era where the slot receiver position has truly come into its own as a vital part of offensive success, Edelman has shown time and again to be the best in the game.
So, dismiss Edelman's Canton credentials at your own risk. Very few people expected him to ever amount to much as a pro. Fewer still thought he'd be the MVP of the Super Bowl one day.
If you made that wager Sunday, congrats on that 20-to-1 payday.
Julian Edelman has made a career of exceeding expectations—by surprising people.
And after Sunday's heroics, it's increasingly likely that his last surprise in the NFL will be a beige jacket.