FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- No Aaron Hernandez? No Rob Gronkowski? No Wes Welker?
|After logging a grand total of 69 catches over his first four NFL campaigns, Julian Edelman broke out with 105 grabs in the regular season. (J Pat Carter/Associated Press)|
New England's leading receiver doesn't exactly look the part. He's charitably listed at 5-foot-10, with a playoff beard just short of bushy. Doesn't look like a 1,000-yard receiver, much less one who doesn't typically line up in the slot. Rather, he seems like a not-so-big hockey player.
A kind of goofy one, too. Julian Edelman's passions include smoothie-making, for which he has released an Internet instructional video, and hamburger-eating. There are allegations that he eats the latter Elvis-style, with peanut butter.
I mention that he's Jewish only because I had him submit to ethnic testing.
"Have you seen a Woody Allen flick?" I asked.
"I have," Edelman said.
"A Neil Simon play?"
He didn't quite understand.
"Do you have any guilt?"
"No," Edelman said. "I do not have any guilt."
"That could disqualify you right there," I said. "No guilt."
In fact, it's the Patriots who should feel a tinge. With 105 catches at the veteran's-minimum base salary (non-guaranteed), I'm thinking Edelman might be making less per catch than anybody in football.
I tell him I am here to right that wrong.
He has no problem with that, as long as it's after the playoffs.
Consider: Only three guys caught more balls this season. Julian Edelman had more receiving yards and a better yards-per-game average than Larry Fitzgerald, Marques Colston and Mike Wallace. And he hasn't even been a receiver that long.
He was a quarterback at Kent State -- "a firecrackery kind of guy," he says -- with aspirations to be the next Doug Flutie. NFL teams were so impressed they didn't bother inviting him to the NFL Scouting Combine. Now teams are sorry. Except for the Patriots, of course, who selected him in the seventh round of the 2009 draft.
Did I mention he passed on the Canadian Football League?
"You don't grow up saying you wanna play in the CFL," he says.
No, not in this country. You grow up, as Edelman did, in places like San Mateo, Calif., playing on asphalt in eighth grade and saying, "I'm Tom Brady."
Then, next thing you know, you're a rookie trying to make the team any way you can and there he is, in the huddle, expecting you not to screw up.
"I was a little star-struck," Edelman recalls. "I mean, it was Tom Brady."
He caught 37 balls that season for 359 yards. And when it was over, he moved to Los Angeles.
"Cause that's where Tommy is," he says, recalling a conversation with his quarterback. "If you ever needed a guy to throw to, I would, you know, I'd be there. I'd leave anything, you know, a work out ... or if I was out with my buddies ... You know, if Tom called ... "
"Did you get any calls?" I ask.
"Not right away," he said. "It was more once every two weeks. Then it turned into twice a week and --"
"So you moved to Southern California, basically, to be available to play catch with Tom Brady?"
So that's why Brady trusts him.
"It hasn't come overnight," Edelman says. "It's a lot of reps ... I learned from a guy that had really good chemistry with him."
Welker, he means. And the comment raises questions that dogged Welker in New England: Is it the Player or the System? The receiver or the quarterback?
"You're playing with one of the best," Edelman said. "That's huge. ... It could be a combination, I don't know. ... But I'm not gonna complain."
Having no tolerance for modesty, I argue the other position. The numbers say Edelman consistently ranks among the game's best punt returners. He's been pressed into service as a cornerback. And again, unlike Welker, he's not primarily a slot receiver. He's too good an athlete to be dismissed as another Little White Guy.
"I don't know," he says, hesitantly. "I guess there's very few of us. Maybe it's a little club of something."
What about all those dismissing you as a mere cog in Bill Belichick's Machine.
"That's a bunch of noise," he said.
Another Next Man Up? Edelman doesn't want to hear that, either.
"Everyone's got talent at the level we're at," he said. "But being a smart, tough football player, there's a huge premium for that. ... It's one thing to be 100 percent and go out and play football feeling great.
"It's another thing when you're not feeling good. You're sick, or you got a nagging injury, and you gotta go out in the cold and go across the middle where a guy's coming full speed at you trying to kill you."
Through his first four seasons, Julian Edelman logged just nine catches over five playoff games. Saturday night, at Gillette Stadium against the Colts, it will be different. He's New England's leading receiver. This time, Edelman necessitates game planning from the opposition. He's not a bit player. He's the main event.
No difference, he says: "I'm just gonna try to go out there and get open and catch the ball."
"What are you most proud of?" I ask. "One hundred and five catches, a thousand yards? Or being tough enough and healthy enough to play in 16 games?"
"What I'm most proud of, we haven't gotten yet."
Follow Mark Kriegel on Twitter @MarkKriegel.