Unpopular Opinions

Unpopular Opinions: Patriots' Julian Edelman is a Hall of Famer

Listen, I don't try to live my life as a contrarian. That's not true -- I kind of do. I spend a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I have a two-hour commute that allows me to hear a lot of the sports world's most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it's best to take a look at the other side.

In this space, I articulate positions that are the opposite of what most people think -- unpopular opinions, if you will -- and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Today, I'll explain why the most recent Super Bowl MVP is ticketed for a spot in Canton.

Julian Edelman is going to the Hall of Fame.

Yes, the Pro FootballHall of Fame. And no, not as a spectator for Tom Brady's eventual enshrinement, wiseass. You're very funny, but Edelman's getting the knock. He's getting the gold jacket. He's getting a bust that better include a big bronze beard or else I'll riot. But he's a Hall of Fame player.

And forgive me for taking a minute to get in on this topic, which blew up in the wake of Super Bowl LIII. I just finished binge-watching "True Detective" last week. I'm talking about the first season, not the current one. (I have children, leave me alone.) It's funny -- as I watched the show, I started to ask myself, "When did Matthew McConaughey go from being the 'alright, alright, alright' guy in 'Dazed and Confused' to one of the best actors of his generation? I mean, who else could be in those car ads where he's holding court at a dinner party one minute, before he excuses himself to shoot pool by himself and make some amazing shots the next? McConaughey, that's who!"

Similarly, as I watched Edelman run around wide open all game against the Rams in the Super Bowl, like that undersized kid at an AYSO game who is running circles around the bigger kids, it also struck me that Edelman has become one of the best receivers of his generation.

He has the numbers to back it up, too. Yes. He. Does. He hasn't put up the gaudy statistics of some of his other peers destined for Canton -- Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, etc. He's just 248th all-time in receiving yardage (5,390). That's in the regular season, though. Edelman is second in NFL postseason history with 1,412 receiving yards, behind Jerry Rice. He's also behind only Rice with 115 playoff receptions. He's tied with Michael Irvin for the second-most playoff games with 100-plus yards receiving (six). He ranks third in career receiving yards in the Super Bowl (337). Sorry that he might not have won you a fantasy football championship (actually, he might have, because he's still a PPR beast!), but he delivers when the Patriots need him the most.

And shut your mouth if you even want to invoke the fact that he's never made the Pro Bowl. It's an honor to be selected to the all-star game, but he's usually making big plays in the Super Bowl at that time of year anyway. Which might be a touch more important. When we talk about the best NFL players ever, you talk about the guys who come up the biggest on the biggest stage. Huge stat lines in the regular season are great, but every player is gunning for the Lombardi Trophy. So if you make the plays that matter, you should get some consideration. It might not be fair, but that's the way it is.

Just think of Edelman's big postseason moments during the Patriots' recent run of dominance. He threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola as the Patriots earned a comeback win over the Ravens in the Divisional Round of the 2014 season's playoffs. He scored the go-ahead touchdown against the Seahawks a few weeks later in Super Bowl XLIX. He had a miracle catch against the Falcons during the Patriots' rally from a 28-3 deficit in Super Bowl LI. Then he looked like the only dude outside of Sony Michel who was playing offense for the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, and he was voted the game's MVP.

Rings matter when it's time for the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee to vote, and Edelman now has three of them. And the Patriots' dynasty (which is the greatest North American professional sports dynasty ever) has only one player who spent the bulk of his career with New England in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Ty Law, who'll be enshrined this summer). That's going to change.

By the time his career is over -- Edelman, 32, still has good years ahead of him -- he will be able to point to at least three Hall of Famers whose career achievements were comparable to his: Lynn Swann, Fred Biletnikoff and Michael Irvin.

Swann never led the NFL in receiving. In fact, he never had more than 880 receiving yards in a season, although he did tie for the NFL lead with 11 receiving touchdowns in 1975. Biletnikoff led the NFL in receptions only once (1971) and topped 1,000 receiving yards only once in his career (1968). Both men were selected as Super Bowl MVP (Swann in Super Bowl X; Biletnikoff in Super Bowl XI). They're two of the seven receivers to earn the honor. Irvin led the NFL with 1,523 receiving yards in 1991, the year before the Cowboys' dynasty started. And while Swann and Freddy B were a little before my time, I remember Irvin being one of the most annoying players in the NFL. Not because of his flamboyance, but because he always made those critical catches that would break the opposition's spirit.

But if you let Edelman in, why not Troy Brown? Deion Branch? Wes Welker? Well, I have only so much time to devote to this topic. I do, however, defer to coach Bill Belichick, who waxed on about Edelman after the Super Bowl.

"Julian epitomizes the work ethic, toughness, mental toughness, physical toughness, determination and will, and just extraordinary ability to perform under pressure," Belichick said. "He's truly in the mold of one of the great versatile Patriots, with Troy Brown, Mike Vrabel, guys like that.

"Nobody has worked harder in my career than Julian to develop his skills and his craft at a position, other than I'd say Stephen Neal -- other than Julian because he really didn't have any background in it."

Edelman's the most distinguished receiver of the Patriots' title-winning teams (remember, Randy Moss never got a ring), even if I didn't feel that way a couple of weeks ago. And one day, he's going to be celebrated in Canton. It's inevitable. Just like it's inevitable that he's going to make a 9-yard reception when it's third-and-8.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @AdamRank.

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