So Josh McCown, after a pretty impressive if journeyman career that saw him be the last man standing from the 2002 draft, got hired by ESPN. And in his first day on the job they assigned him the fairly standard task of ranking his five top receivers in the NFL. Pretty much the ex-quarterback equivalent of a “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” essay. His were:
1. Julio Jones
2. Michael Thomas
3. Odell Beckham Jr.
4. Julian Edelman
… and then nobody knows what happened after that because they were too busy diving into their phones to primal scream with howls of righteous indignation and lots of ALL CAPS at the terrible atrocities being done to various receivers who didn’t make the list and call for McCown’s professional head:
McCown thought surviving 17 years of pro football was hard? Welcome to the world of giving your opinion about things in public. The night is dark and full of terrors.
It’ll come as no surprise to anyone that I absolutely agree that Julian Edelman is a Top 5 receiver. And while that’s a shameless homer take, it makes sense for a few reasons.
The first is the specific position Edelman plays. I don’t believe the outrage on Twitter directed at McCown is coming from an anti-Patriots bias. It’s position bias. It’s Slot Shaming.
In today’s NFL, where 3-wides is the new basic pro set, slot receiver is a starting position. And the world is still trying to adjust its thinking on that. It wasn’t that long ago that the All Pro team still included a fullback and only recently did the AP change from two running backs to one running back and a flex (which was Tyreek Hill in 2018). So there’s still a natural inclination to assume all the top receivers have to be 6-3 guys, separated from the formation outside the numbers, snagging catches off the top of the safeties’ helmets 20 yards upfield. But not having a slot guy on your list would be like not putting a catcher on your All Star team or a point guard on your All NBA team because their stats don’t compare to the 1st basemen/shooting guards.
Which brings us to stats. Football isn’t baseball. It’s not all about how many boldface numbers are on your Baseball Reference page. Clutch is a factor. Big plays in important moments count. Here are Edelman’s last six postseason games:
Does anyone want to argue with me that Antonio Brown, Juju Smith-Schuster or DeAndre Hopkins could’ve put together a string of playoff performances like that? If so, why haven’t they? If they’d invented Facebook, they would’ve invented Facebook. Hopkins is a transcendent talent who can line up in my offense any time. But his best performance among his four postseason games was 6 catches for 69 yards in a 30-0 loss. Not coincidentally, Edelman’s team is 6-0 with two championships in the six games I just showed you.
Which brings me to my final point. Say what you will about Julian Edelman, but he’s playing a critical role in the offense that has driven the greatest dynasty the game has ever known. And when you include the postseason, he’s doing it better that any of his predecessors. Better than Troy Brown. Better than Wes Welker. If that fact, combined with his three rings (and counting) doesn’t put him in your Top 5 receivers, then being in your Top 5 receivers doesn’t mean a thing.