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Julian Edelman Had a Great Career, but He's Not a Hall of Famer

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystApril 13, 2021

New England Patriots quarterback wide receiver warms up before an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Charles Krupa/Associated Press

According to its website, the Pro Football Hall of Fame "pays tribute to the talents and triumphs of pro football's greatest legends." The players enshrined in Canton, Ohio, since 1963 represent the very best to play the game.

By any number of objective measures, Julian Edelman had an excellent NFL career. Over his 12 seasons with the New England Patriots, he was a key part of the greatest dynasty the game has ever known. Now that he has called it a career at age 34, the conversation surrounding him has turned to whether he merits a bronze bust and hideous beige jacket one day.

But while Edelman was an outstanding wideout for a great team, the cold, hard truth is that he's not one of the best at his position to play the sport.

Simply put, Julian Edelman is not a Hall of Famer.

It wasn't that long ago that Edelman was named the MVP of Super Bowl LIII after hauling in 10 catches for 141 yards against the Los Angeles Rams. But after making 100 catches for 1,117 yards in 2019, he missed 10 games in 2020 with a chronic knee injury. With that balky knee still an issue months later, he decided it was time to call it a career.

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"Nothing in my career has ever come easy, and no surprise, this isn't going to be easy either," Edelman said in a video announcement. "I've always said, 'I'll go until the wheels come off.' And they finally have fallen off. Due to an injury last year, I'll be making my official announcement of my retirement from football."

As news of Edelman's retirement spread, the tributes started to pour in.

Steven Senne/Associated Press

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in a team statement:

"By any measure of what constitutes an elite NFL career – wins, championships, production – Julian has it all. Few players can match Julian's achievements, period, but considering his professional trajectory and longevity, the group is even more select. It is historic. This is a tribute to his legendary competitiveness, mental and physical toughness and will to excel. Day in and day out, Julian was always the same: all out."

Edelman's former quarterback also offered props.

"On the biggest stage and in the biggest moments, you always came through," Tom Brady tweeted. "You never lost that chip on your shoulder and you never let anyone define you as a person or player. I'm proud of you Jules. Love you."

There's a lot to celebrate where Edelman's career is concerned. The seventh-round pick out of Kent State was a quarterback who had never played wide receiver before getting to New England. The first four seasons of his pro career were relatively quiet, but by 2013, he had worked his way into the starting lineup full-time. That season, he reeled in a career-high 105 catches (on 151 targets) for 1,056 yards and six scores. It marked the first of three times that he topped 1,000 yards in a season and the first of two occasions where he surpassed 100 receptions.

Where Edelman really made his mark (and where whatever candidacy he has for Canton lies) is in the postseason. In 19 career playoff games, he tallied 118 catches for 1,442 yards and seven touchdowns. He has more receiving yards and catches in the playoffs than every player in league history not named Jerry Rice and is tied with Michael Irvin and Travis Kelce for the second-most 100-yard games in the postseason with six.

That's impressive. But Edelman isn't a Hall of Famer.

Does he deserve a spot in the Patriots Hall of Fame? Of course. Only Wes Welker has more career receptions with the Pats than Edelman. Only three players (Stanley Morgan, Rob Gronkowski and Welker) have more career receiving yards. And he made arguably the biggest play during the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history against the Atlanta Falcons.

That was a ridiculous catch.

But the Pro Football Hall of Fame is about more than postseason accomplishments, and as longtime Green Bay Packers wideout James Jones wrote at NFL.com, too many other players had better careers than Edelman yet aren't in Canton for his HOF case to hold up:

"Edelman had a very good career, but there's no way he belongs in the Hall of Fame. If I look down the line at some of the best wide receivers to play in Green Bay, guys like Sterling Sharpe, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver or Greg Jennings (who, like Edelman, all played with a HOF quarterback), their career stats far exceed Edelman's, and they aren't even sniffing enshrinement. (OK, there's a chance Driver will, eventually.) Looking at my own career, which I'm very proud of, I had nearly 200 fewer catches but 15 more touchdowns than Edelman, and I know I'll never reside in Canton."

For what it's worth, Donald Driver isn't getting in the Hall either. But I digress.

Torry Holt was a seven-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion with the St. Louis Rams who topped 1,000 receiving yards eight years in a row and who has 300 more career receptions, almost twice as many receiving yards and over twice as many career receiving touchdowns (in the regular season) compared to Edelman.

Holt isn't in the Hall of Fame yet, and he's been eligible since 2015.

Tom Gannam/Associated Press

Reggie Wayne is a six-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion with the Indianapolis Colts who topped 1,000 receiving yards eight times and who has 450 more receptions, over twice as many receiving yards and 46 more career touchdown receptions (in the regular season) than Edelman.

Wayne isn't in the Hall of Fame yet, and he's heading into his third year of eligibility.

The list keeps going. Hines Ward tallied 1,000 career receptions for over 12,000 yards and 85 touchdowns over a 14-year career in Pittsburgh. He piled up six 1,000-yard seasons, four Pro Bowl nods, two Super Bowl wins and an MVP award in Super Bowl XL. He's also one of the best blocking wide receivers to ever play the game—maybe the best.

Ward can't even get named a finalist for the Hall of Fame.

As Bleacher Report's Ian Kenyon pointed out, Edelman's career numbers don't pass muster when compared to Jimmy Smith—and no one is making a case for the former Jacksonville Jaguars standout to get a bust in Canton.

Edelman's 6,822 career receiving yards rank 156th in NFL history. His 36 receiving touchdowns are tied for 261st. He never made the Pro Bowl. Not once.

How can you justify calling Edelman one of the best wideouts to ever play the game when he was never named one of the top handful of receivers in his conference?

It's a rhetorical question. You can't.

None of this is intended as a dig at Edelman. Nor does it (nor should it) take away from a great career with the Patriots. Edelman went from a draft-day afterthought to one of the best slot receivers in the NFL. From a converted quarterback from a MAC school to the go-to guy for the Golden Boy. He was all motor, all the time. The definition of hard-nosed and tough.

There are more players enshrined in Canton than those with Super Bowl MVP awards. Just saying.

But the Pro Football Hall of Fame is supposed to be a collection of the best players to ever take the field. The elite of the elite.

While Edelman was exceptionally good for the better part of a decade, he was never the best of the best.

And he doesn't belong in the Hall.