Will Julian Edelman break Wes Welker’s Patriots career receptions record?

Julian Edelman and Wes Welker of the New England Patriots (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Julian Edelman and Wes Welker of the New England Patriots (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

Julian Edelman needs 74 receptions to break Wes Welker’s record for most career receptions with the New England Patriots. Will he be able to get there?

Barring injury, retirement, or a trade, it appears that it’s more a question of when than if Julian Edelman will break Wes Welker’s record for the most career receptions as a member of the New England Patriots.

The two wide receivers were teammates for four seasons — from 2009 to 2012 — on some of the best Patriots offenses in franchise history.

Edelman missed the epic 2007 incarnation with Randy Moss, but all three players were on the roster during Edelman’s rookie season in 2009 and for the first four games of the 2010 season before Moss was traded to the Vikings. Welker later signed with the Broncos in free agency ahead of the 2013 season.

Welker currently holds the No. 1 spot in career receptions for the Patriots with 672 catches, per ProFootballReference. Edelman is second with 599. (If you’re curious, Moss is only 15th on the same list.)

That means Edelman needs 73 more receptions to tie Welker’s mark and 74 more to break it entirely.

Is it doable?

It is … but it might be close.

Welker played 12 seasons in the NFL (six with the Patriots) and retired at 34.

Edelman has been in the NFL for 11 years now, though he missed the entire 2017 season with his ACL tear. He’s 33 now and will turn 34 later this month.

Since Edelman’s first season without Welker on the team (2013), he’s had at least 61 receptions in every season that he’s played (all except 2017). Take a look at his receptions each year:

  • 2013 – 105 receptions
  • 2014 – 92 receptions
  • 2015 – 61 receptions
  • 2016 – 98 receptions
  • 2017 – n/a (injury)
  • 2018 – 74 receptions
  • 2019 – 100 receptions

Do the math, and Jules is averaging just over 88 receptions per year in the six seasons he’s been healthy for and played without Welker. In five of those six seasons he’s had at least 74 catches, which is the exact number needed to set a new Patriots franchise record.

So again, this is very doable for Edelman … provided nothing catastrophic occurs.

If he plays more than one season with the Pats (his new contract runs through the 2021 season, for what it’s worth), he’s almost guaranteed to break Welker’s mark eventually. But if he gets traded or released before then — or if he suffers a season-ending injury — then his outlook changes dramatically obviously.

Edelman hasn’t spoken much about how long he plans to play for. It’d be a surprise to see him trying to set some kind of mark for longevity like his old buddy Tom Brady, who’s routinely told anyone who’ll listen that he plans to play in the NFL into his mid-40s.

Edelman is also a three-time Super Bowl champion as well as the Super Bowl MVP from the Patriots’ win over the Rams two seasons ago.

He’s second all-time in career postseason receptions behind only Jerry Rice, and if you combine regular season and postseason receptions, he’s even close to Welker’s No. 1 spot (Edelman has 717 catches compared to Welker’s 741).

Of course, the elephant in the room for this argument is Tom Brady.

Edelman’s rapport and chemistry with Brady is the stuff of legend. He’s the only quarterback Jules has ever played meaningful professional football with.

Whether New England’s 2020 starter is Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, or someone else entirely, there could be a learning curve as that new QB gets on the same page with the Patriots’ top receiver. It’s fair to wonder if Edelman will put up the same lofty totals in receptions and receiving yards he’s done in previous years without TB12 under center.

Still, the counter to that point is that if ever there was a receiver that a new Patriots quarterback is going to look for in 2020, it’s Edelman.

Mohamed Sanu underwhelmed last year in his New England debut, and second-year players N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, and Gunner Olszewski are extremely raw. Marqise Lee and Damiere Byrd are brand new this year.

Edelman is the elder statesman on offense, the longest-tenured Patriot overall behind only Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty at this point. It’s realistic to assume he’ll be a security blanket and checkdown machine for the New England quarterback, especially given the lack of talent and experience at tight end.

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Considering all this — and again, assuming nothing extreme or unlikely happens during the season itself — there’s a very good chance that Edelman ends up getting the receptions he needs to break Welker’s mark in 2020.

If and when that happens, it should open up the debate as to which of the two players is the best wide receiver in New England franchise history.