With everyone comparing Julian Edelman and Wes Welker, I figured I would take a look at who was a better Patriot. In December, I compared Welker and Danny Amendola. I thought the comparison was interesting because their Patriots careers were so different. The problem with Edelman, I argued, was that he didn’t have the stats that Welker had, and didn’t have enough of the huge moments to offset that. Well, that has certainly changed.
Welker played for the Patriots for six seasons, was selected to the Pro Bowl in five of them, and put together perhaps the most impressive six-year span by a receiver in NFL history.
In those six seasons, Welker tallied 672 receptions on 926 targets, which is a 73% catch rate. That number is absolutely ridiculous. He was over 100 receptions and 1,000 yards in five of the six seasons — the only exception being 2010, when he came back from a torn ACL he suffered in December of 2009, and missed only one game, the season finale in Miami. In fact, over his Patriots career, Welker only missed 3 games, the other 2 coming in 2009 in weeks 2 and 3, when he sat out with a knee injury.
So Welker was the model of consistency for the Patriots. He also redefined how the slot receiver position was played. He was completely dominant, and a matchup nightmare for every team the Patriots played for six seasons. He also had 11 catches in Super Bowl 42, being the only receiver on either team with more than 8 catches, and was the only player with over 100 yards rushing or receiving. He also had 7 catches in Super Bowl 46, and over 100 yards receiving in both playoff games in 2012.
Edelman’s career, for comparison, has been much different than Welker’s.
He was drafted in the seventh round in 2009, and has played all ten of his seasons on the Patriots. Even though he’s played four more seasons than Welker did, he has 173 less receptions than Welker, with ‘only’ 499. He has a 67% reception rate, which is still very good. He also was a more dangerous punt returner, with four punts returned for touchdowns in his career. Edelman has cracked the 1,000 yard mark only twice, and had only one season with over 100 catches.
So, as you can see, the regular season stats aren’t close. But, regular season stats aren’t the only measuring stick used to judge these two players. The playoffs is where the comparison starts to favor Edelman.
He’s played in double the games that Welker has, playing in eighteen when Welker only played in nine for the Patriots. However, the first five in which Edelman played, he was really a backup. So, as a main target, Edelman has played in thirteen games, with 106 receptions, 1,337 yards, and three touchdowns. Welker played in nine games, with 69 receptions, 686 yards, and four scores. So, Edelman has more catches per game, more yards per game, and has cracked 100 yards six times to Welker’s three.
Then, there are the single memorable plays.
If you had to give one signature highlight of Welker on the Patriots, most places would choose his drop in Super Bowl 46. Whether or not that’s fair, that’s probably the most memorable play he was ever involved in. For Edelman, on the other hand, the list is extremely long: right away, you would think it would be the catch against Atlanta in Super Bowl 51, but you also have a few from Super Bowl 49 to choose from as well. There was the 3rd and 18 play where he took a big (illegal) hit from Kam Chancellor, and still made the catch to continue the drive. Then, there’s the eventual game winning touchdown when he ran a sick whip route and left Tharold Simon in the dust.
Or maybe it would be one of the 3rd and 10’s in Kansas City this year. Maybe you’d skip the highlight of one single catch, and show him accepting the Super Bowl MVP award this year. Whatever you choose, you get the impression that Edelman is perhaps the second most clutch player that has ever played for the Patriots — that, in times where they absolutely needed a big play, Brady was looking Edelman’s way more than anyone else, and Julian hardly ever let him down.
So what’s the final verdict?
Welker put together possibly the most prolific six-year stretch for a receiver in NFL history, but, even though he had 11 catches in a losing effort in Super Bowl 42, he never was able to match his regular season production in the postseason. Edelman has had the same six years since he became a full time offensive starter (really only five because he lost 2017 to a torn ACL). Although his regular season numbers aren’t quite as impressive, those five seasons resulted in three Super Bowl wins, tons of memorable highlights from all three of them, and one Super Bowl MVP award. He’s also not done yet: it’s totally possible that the Patriots go deep in the playoffs again for the next year or two, and Edelman continues to be as important as he has been in past big games.
Because of that, I think it’s clear that Edelman had the better career as a Patriot. Belichick’s Patriots have always been judged more on their postseason performance than their regular season performance, so shouldn’t we do the same with their players? There’s no denying what Welker did in New England, and I think that his career is worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but I still think Edelman had a better Patriots career. Does that mean Edelman is a Hall of Famer too? Let’s leave that for a different debate. This one, however, favors Edelman.
Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast
Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats