The seventh round is the “throw it on the wall and see what sticks” portion of the NFL draft. Players selected within the final 40ish picks are essentially glorified undrafted free agents and despite getting their names called are no investments expected to yield tremendous returns for their clubs in the long haul.
Julian Edelman was different, of course. Despite being picked 232nd overall in 2009, Edelman went on to become a cornerstone of the New England Patriots’ dynasty — playing a key role in three Super Bowl-winning runs and establishing himself as one of the most productive pass catchers in postseason history.
A surefire Patriots Hall of Famer, Edelman’s journey is a unique one after he entered the league without a clear position. Having played quarterback at Kent State, every option was on the table as he recalled during the latest version of NBC Sports’ Football Morning in America:
[N]o one knew exactly what I was. I started getting all these workouts from teams. The Steelers wanted to see me backpedal — they wanted to see if I could play safety. Cleveland came in and worked me out at a couple of positions. The Patriots came in, and [running backs coach] Ivan Fears had me do running back drills — like, could I be a third-down back? He put me on the board to see if I knew protections. I’m on the board, really making things up, kind of like an idiot. When that was over, I’m like, “The Patriots definitely don’t want me.” Then a week later Scotty O’Brien, the special-teams coach for the Patriots, comes in and tests me catching punts and kickoffs. So a bunch of other teams came and worked me out, a lot of them as a receiver. Then I took some visits to different organizations. I went to Chicago with [general manager] Jerry Angelo and he said, “We’re probably not going to draft you. We’ll try to pick you up as a free agent.” Then Miami brought me in. That was intriguing to me to see Miami for the first time. They had the Wildcat going and so I was over there, big-eyed and bushy-tailed over that. I met with the 49ers a bunch.
The Patriots never brought me in. Never called.
Edelman had a productive career as a dual-threat quarterback for the Golden Flashes, but he was undersized by traditional pro-level standards. A change of positions was necessary, even though nobody knew at the time what this change would look like and whether or not it would be enough to turn him into an NFL-caliber player after all.
The 2009 draft was therefore a quiet affair for Edelman right until the final round, when teams started to show interest in him as a potential free agency addition — with one notable exception.
So, in the draft, it’s the sixth round, and all of a sudden, a bunch of teams start calling. “Hey, we’re not going to draft you but we’ll give you 20 grand to come be a priority free agent.” We had probably four, five teams calling. Don Yee says, “You know, I think the best fit for you would be the Packers. If you don’t get drafted, we’ll go to the Packers.” He felt that this would be the best role for me. And then he also says, right before he hangs up, “New England did trade for another seventh-rounder. I wouldn’t be surprised but I don’t know.”
Seventh round. All of a sudden I got a call from a 508 area code [Massachusetts]. I believe it was Bill Belichick’s assistant, Berj Najerian. “Hey Julian. I’m with New England. We’re gonna draft you. Here’s Coach Belichick.”
I’m sitting there like I don’t know what to do. Bill Belichick! He gets on the phone and says, “Hey, Julian? Well, uh, you’re a hell of a football player. We don’t know what you’re gonna play but we’ll see you at Rookie Camp.” I’m like, “All right coach! I’ll see you!”
The rookie camp invitation that was the Patriots’ seventh-round pick that year proved to be one of the best draft moves the team made over the last two decades. Edelman’s status as an all-time great and potential Pro Football Hall of Famer has and will be debated, but the matter of fact is that he has played an enormous role for New England between joining the club and announcing his retirement one week ago.
Few Round 7 selections have had a similar impact, and that alone is quite the accomplishment.