“Valuable” doesn’t always mean “Best” as we’ve seen over the years in “Most Valuable Player” awards. Sometimes “Most Valuable” means the player that received the least amount of help from their supporting cast, like when Falcons QB Matt Ryan defeated Patriots QB Tom Brady in the MVP voting for 2016.
Other times “Most Valuable” only looks at the team record, like when Panthers QB Cam Newton defeated Patriots QB Tom Brady in the MVP voting for 2015. Or “Most Valuable” can mean most productive, while ignoring both supporting cast and team record, like when Broncos QB Peyton Manning defeated Patriots QB Tom Brady in the MVP voting for 2013.
Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked.
Former NFL wide receiver Nate Burleson does a great job over at the NFL Network and he put together a list of the five receivers that are the most valuable to their respective teams. The three best receivers in the league rank one-two-three in Falcons WR Julio Jones, Steelers WR Antonio Brown, and Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr.
New England Patriots WR Julian Edelman ranks fourth. Here’s his reasoning:
Edelman is the most overlooked and underappreciated wide receiver of the last 10 years. It's a combination of him being a shorter wideout (5-foot-10) and the fact that Patriots receivers are labeled "system players." On top of that, when you look at the Patriots' roster, his name doesn't jump off the list, not with Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski or Brandin Cooks in the spotlight. But based on what Edelman's consistently able to do in the regular season -- when healthy -- I'd put him up against any receiver. And I'm not sure you can name a more clutch receiver in the playoffs since he's been in the league. Edelman is the glue guy, or the carpet, as we say on "Good Morning Football." He's the component that brings the room (or the offense, in this case) together. He's been Brady's security blanket.
Gronk made this list heading into the 2016 season, but he didn't have an impact on the success of the Patriots last season, given that he missed eight games plus the playoffs. New England proved it can win the Lombardi Trophy without him. That shows me that having a versatile receiver in this particular offense is more valuable than having the best tight end in football. The Patriots can do more with Edelman, in terms of disguises and decoys, than they can with Gronk. When Gronk is on the field, you are forced to take notice because of his size (6-6, 265 pounds). You don't notice Edelman until he's bobbling a catch in the middle of the field to help you win the Super Bowl.
This is a pretty big claim since Burleson acknowledges that Rob Gronkowski is eligible for consideration as evidenced by his second place ranking on the same list last year. Burleson says that he’s evaluating “the guys who I think are the most valuable in terms of what they mean to the rest of the offense.”
So I’m not sure how I feel about this. Aren’t Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins or Chiefs TE Travis Kelce or Colts WR T.Y. Hilton or Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald or Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin more valuable “in terms of what they mean to the rest of the offense” because there is literally no passing attack without them on their respective teams? Because that sense of import within the offense is shared with Julio and Brown and Beckham; those offenses would vaporize without them.
The Patriots offense would certainly decline without Edelman, don’t get me wrong. But if we look at the 2016 season as the Patriots thriving without Gronkowski, we also need to point out that the Patriots had one of the deepest rosters in the Bill Belichick era. And if we look at how the offense fell apart without Edelman in 2015, we need to acknowledge that it was like watching Final Destination where a different starter was injured every single week and the entire decline in production can’t be completely attributed to the loss of Edelman.
I think Edelman is great- I’ll still consider him a top 15 receiver until he starts to decline- but let’s be serious. The Patriots could trot out Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, and James White and Patriots fans would reasonably expect 30 points from that offense. That offense still walks out two blue chip receivers in Gronkowski and Cooks, while White is a top five receiving back.
Just like I understood Ryan winning MVP over Brady last season- the conversation ends with “the Falcons defense was terrible, while the Patriots defense was #1 in points allowed”- I’m comfortable saying that no receiver in this Patriots offense can be considered the “Most Valuable” due to the sheer volume of talent on the roster. They can still have three of the top 30 receivers in the league (Gronkowski, Edelman, Cooks), but that fact precludes them from winning any sort of “value” distinction.