Julian Edelman Retires: Looking back at his 12-year career with the Patriots

On April 12, Julian Edelman announced he would retire from the NFL, ending a career that has spanned 12 years and leaves behind some much-debated stats. With Edelman’s NFL career now over, let’s take a look back at his impressive career.

Julian Edelman built his career from relative obscurity

When the New England Patriots selected Edelman in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft, barely anyone will have batted an eyelid. As a QB coming out Kent State, Edelman was a long shot to make the roster, let alone become a star.

Edelman demonstrated potential but just not at QB

In college, Edelman’s passing numbers were not impressive. In his three-year career, he had a 54.5 percent completion rate, with 4,997 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns, and 31 interceptions.

Furthermore, he served as a dual-threat QB, with 502 rushing attempts for 2,483 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns. Interestingly, Edelman had just one reception in his college career. However, his ability to carry the ball left the Patriots staff with the impression he could play a role outside of QB.

Edelman did not receive an invite to the combine in 2009, but he did post solid numbers at his pro day. His 3.92-second short shuttle was quicker than any player managed at the combine. In fact, Edelman’s numbers were so impressive that he actually posted the sixth-highest relative athletic score for the WR position in the 2009 NFL Draft.

A rollercoaster first four seasons

As a seventh-round draft pick, just making the roster is impressive. Well, Edelman did a lot more than that as a rookie. Despite breaking his arm during the season, Edelman managed to finish the season with 37 receptions on 54 targets.

The next few years were tough for Julian Edelman

After a strong rookie campaign, Edelman looked set to be a key part of the Patriots’ offense. However, over the next three seasons, he saw just 55 targets, pulling in just 32 receptions for 355 yards.

The 2012 season saw Edelman start to make an impact for the Patriots. He finished with 3 receiving touchdowns and a fumble recovery touchdown in the infamous Butt Fumble game against the New York Jets on Thanksgiving. That 2012 season would be a sign of things to come for Edelman.

Julian Edelman’s career took off in 2013

After that rollercoaster start to his career, Edelman’s career went to another level in 2013. He finished the season with 151 targets, 105 receptions, 1,056 yards, and 6 receiving touchdowns. It would also be the season where Edelman began to be the Patriots’ go-to receiver in the playoffs.

In the 2013 playoffs, Edelman saw 24 targets in just two games. He would turn those targets into 16 receptions for 173 yards and a touchdown. While a relatively modest start, it was a sign of things to come.

Edelman became one of the most reliable receivers in the league

Usually lining up in the slot, Edelman’s distinctive red gloves made him easy to spot when the Patriots’ offense was on the field. While Rob Gronkowski garnered the headlines, Edelman just continued to post solid numbers.

From 2013 to 2019, Edelman played 83 regular-season games (he tore his ACL in 2017 and missed the entire season). In that time, he saw a total of 793 targets, at an average of 9.55 targets per game. Of those targets, he caught 530 passes for a catch percentage of 66.8 percent. Edelman totaled 5,793 receiving yards in that period for an average of 10.9 yards per reception. He also scored 32 receiving touchdowns.

Edelman would finish his career with 6,822 receiving yards and 36 receiving touchdowns. He caught 620 of his 941 targets with a catch percentage of 65.9. During the course of his career, Edelman averaged 11 yards per reception and 7.2 yards per target.

Julian Edelman’s career in New England was about more than just the numbers

The debate around Edelman’s legacy has been raging for a long time. Detractors will compare his stats to other greats of the game, such as Hines Ward. Meanwhile, supporters will point to his impressive playoff legacy and how he stepped up in big moments for the Patriots.

Edelman’s playoff legacy is extremely impressive

Edelman’s retirement ends the career of one of the most impressive playoff performers in NFL history. A three-time Super Bowl champion, he ranks second in NFL history for postseason receiving yards (1,442) and receptions (118).

He took snaps in a total of four Super Bowls, meaning he had a 75 percent record in the biggest game when he took to the field (Edelman was on the Patriots for the loss in 2017 but did not play a snap in the game due to injury).

In the three Super Bowls in which he saw at least one target, Edelman saw a total of 37. He turned those targets into 24 receptions for 337 yards and a single touchdown. His 10 catches for 141 yards earned Edelman the MVP in Super Bowl LIII. Moreover, arguably his biggest Super Bowl highlight came with his incredible reception during the Patriots’ comeback against the Atlanta Falcons.

Edelman will finish his NFL career with a playoff stat line of 180 targets, 118 receptions, 1,442 receiving yards, and 5 receiving touchdowns. Additionally, Edelman had another 81 yards and a touchdown as a runner. He finishes his career with a 13-6 playoff record.

Edelman also played a role as a punt returner during his career

Over the course of his career, Edelman returned a total of 177 punts for 1,986 yards and 4 touchdowns. His longest punt return was a 94-yard return in 2010. The faith the Patriots had in Edelman on special teams was highlighted by how often he would be sent to field punts in critical situations, even when he wasn’t the usual punt returner.

Edelman played roles as both a passer and a defensive back for New England

Edelman rocketed into the hearts of many Patriots fans before he even really broke out on offense. In 2011, with the Patriots short on defensive backs, Edelman was thrust into a role on defense. The unusual situation of a wide receiver lining up on defense garnered a lot of attention. The willingness of Edelman to do whatever it takes to help the team was heralded as a highlighting feature of the “Patriot Way”. He finished the 2011 season with 21 tackles and 2 QB hits (including playoffs).

Edelman’s past as a QB was rarely used by the Patriots. In his career, he threw just 8 passes. Nevertheless, he finished with 7 completions for 179 yards and 2 touchdowns. One of those passing touchdowns, in fact, came in a huge playoff moment for the Patriots.

Trailing 28-21 to the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round of the 2015 NFL Playoffs, Edelman received a backward pass from Tom Brady. From his own 45-yard line, Edelman uncorked a pass 35 yards to fellow wide receiver Danny Amendola. Amendola took the ball in for a touchdown to level the scoring. The Patriots would go on to not only win the game but they would also win their first Super Bowl in a decade.

Throughout his career, Edelman was a regular spark for the New England Patriots. While his career stats may not be the most impressive résumé of any player following their retirement, Edelman’s impact on the last 12 years of the NFL cannot be questioned.

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Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN