ATLANTA — You surely know the broad strokes of Julian Edelman’s NFL journey from college quarterback to Wes Welker understudy to Tom Brady favorite to Super Bowl LI hero and, finally, to Super Bowl LIII MVP.
But how exactly did Edelman wind up with the New England Patriots, who defeated the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to win their sixth Super Bowl title?
Patriots coach Bill Belichick explained that in great detail Monday morning during Edelman’s MVP news conference.
“It’s kind of interesting,” Belichick said. “I’ve got to give (sportswriter) Rick Gosselin credit on that one for getting us started. I talked to Rick — as you know, Rick followed the draft very closely — and at one point, he said to me, ‘A kid you might want to take a look at is this quarterback out of Kent State. I don’t think he can play quarterback (in the NFL), but I’ve heard he’s a pretty good player.’
“So we kind of got going on him a little bit, and we were like, OK, what would we do with Julian? Is he a receiver? Is he a punt returner? Is he a defensive back? Is he maybe a guy that just can play multiple positions in the kicking game? So we went out and worked him out — how many times did we work you out? Two? So we sent one coach up there. And then we were like, well all right, let’s send someone else up there, because we weren’t really sure what to do with him.
“So, as it turned out, he came to the Patriots (as a seventh-round draft pick in 2009) and caught passes, which he hadn’t done before; returned kicks, which he hadn’t done before; and played defense, which he hadn’t done before; in addition to cover kicks and all the other things in special teams.
“Nobody has worked harder in my career than Julian to develop his skills and his craft in a position — other than, I’d say, (wrestler-turned-guard) Steve Neal — other than Julian, because he really didn’t have any background in it. We put him on defense and put him against good players in the slot, and obviously, he’s excelled as a receiver for a player that had no real college background doing that.
“I’d say the game — and we’ve talked about this — the game that really impressed me the most in watching Julian was the Ohio State game. He didn’t have a lot of blocking, and they were getting killed by Ohio State, but what you saw in that game was how competitive he was, how hard he was to tackle and how tough he was.
“Even though it was three, four touchdowns, whatever it was they were behind by, he played the game with an intensity honestly was hard for them to handle. They had a difficult time with him. So you could see the competitiveness on film and in the workouts.”
Twice during his three-and-a-half-minute response, Belichick turned to address Edelman, who was seated just offstage to his left.
“I still remember, Julian, us standing out there on the practice field catching punts and me trying to tell you how to catch punts,” Belichick said. “I had to actually go over there and show you — here’s how to do it. So luckily I handled that one — as far as the ball spinning and which way it breaks and so forth. So I just can’t say enough.
“And I go back to his first playoff game against the Ravens (in 2009) when he probably was our best player on the field. Now, we didn’t play well that day, and we got hammered, but he played that game the way he played the Ohio State game when he was at Kent State. Catching a slip screen on fourth-and-10 and breaking five tackles to get the first down.
“It’s an incredible story, and coming back from the injury last year, you just see Julian in there every day competing against himself, trying to get better, trying to continue to rehab and regain the excellence at his position that he has come to do.”
Edelman, who missed the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL and sat out the first four games of 2018 due to suspension, caught 10 passes on 12 targets for 141 yards against the Rams. He now ranks second in NFL history in postseason receptions and receiving yards behind Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.
Thumbnail photo via Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports Images