FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When Julian Edelman was named MVP of Super Bowl LIII, he became the seventh wide receiver to break through and earn that honor on football’s largest stage.
Former Patriot Deion Branch is also part of that group, having erupted for 11 catches and 113 yards in New England’s 24-21 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. Branch, it turns out, was also on the Patriots practice field as a volunteer assistant coach this month, which gave him an up-close view of Edelman. It looked different from what Branch remembers from his final three seasons with the Patriots (2010 to 2012).
“Just being able to see Julian grow from the Julian back in the days when I was there to the 2019 Julian, now he’s the guy in the receiving room,” Branch said. “I always told him that, ‘Just be patient. Understand the process. Your time is coming.’ It’s now.”
Is it ever.
Joining some of the NFL’s all-time greats in the Super Bowl MVP fraternity — a group that includes his best pal Tom Brady and San Francisco 49ers players he grew up admiring, such as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young — serves up a reminder that the 33-year-old Edelman’s star has never shined brighter.
He received the rock star treatment while walking the red carpet at the 2019 Genesis Prize in Jerusalem last week, before forcing host Martin Short off the stage as part of the night’s planned program. Short was joking about how there are only a few notable Jewish athletes in sports history, before Edelman rushed out, took over the show and directed the audience of 600 to watch a video of them.
Edelman, of course, was part of the video. Then later, when someone congratulated him on his star rise and contract extension that included $12 million in guarantees, Edelman shared what seems to be his motto for 2019: “Just got to keep it going.”
He is doing just that — both on the field, where he was a leading presence at June’s mandatory minicamp, and off the field, where he will walk another red carpet on Thursday in Foxborough to preview his upcoming documentary on Showtime, which is scheduled to premiere on Friday.
Despite the increased attention, those around him say Edelman hasn’t changed.
“Julian earned it and deserves everything he is getting. He’s a very hard-working young man, and he’s still the same,” Branch said. “One thing I’d say about Julian not changing is that he still gets frustrated on the field; he’s always driven to win. At one point [earlier this month], we were on the field and the defense was doing such a good job — even though Julian knows Coach [Bill] Belichick was taking away certain things to take him out, his biggest thing was, ‘Guys, we have to get going. We’re not looking good and have to make some plays.’ That’s a position he may be in this season — getting double- and triple-teamed.”
If that’s the case, Edelman might face an additional obstacle when it comes to elevating his name in the discussion of big-game receivers.
Edelman has 115 postseason receptions, which is second behind only Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (151). Edelman has averaged 6.3 catches in playoff games, and if he keeps that pace, he’ll need to play in six more postseason contests to catch Rice. That is not a far-fetched thought for Edelman, whose contact now extends through the 2021 season.
His 1,412 postseason receiving yards rank second in NFL postseason history, but Edelman will have a hard time catching Rice (2,245) in that category.
Another category in which he has a better chance to catch Rice is 100-yard games in the playoffs. Edelman has six, which ties him with Michael Irvin behind Rice’s eight. Rice played in 29 postseason games to hit that mark, while Edelman has played in 18.
Edelman already is the NFL’s all-time postseason leader with 443 punt return yards, a sometimes-overlooked part of his game that contributes to the Patriots winning the field-position battle. No player has returned more punts (39) in the playoffs.
“I’ve accomplished goals in the past, and when you do that, you set new goals,” Edelman said. “I’ve been blessed and fortunate to attain and reach a lot of my dreams, but I still have a lot of other things I want to go for.”
He has come a long way to get to this point — a 2009 seventh-round draft choice who was making a switch from college quarterback to professional wide receiver.
And now Super Bowl MVP.
“Being part of this actual system and knowing what the expectation is as far as the receiver position, I think Julian’s versatility is just like the guys that came before him,” Branch said. “Here’s another guy who is very versatile within the offense, in each and every position, from the X, the Z, the Y, the F. Just being interchangeable — and on the fly be able to process it and execute each position. I think that’s so important to your knowledge and growth. Your football IQ. That’s what I’m seeing from Julian.”