The New England Patriots created a blueprint through Wes Welker and Julian Edelman that has evolved the slot receiver position in the NFL.
The New England Patriots established themselves as a successful pass-heavy team when they acquired Wes Welker in 2007. The duo of Tom Brady and Welker evolved the slot receiver position to be the focal point of the offense and to what is more commonly seen around the league today.
Welker immediately excelled in New England after understanding the complex and dynamic offense that the Patriots were trying to run. He caught over 100 passes for more than 1,000 yards in five of his six seasons playing with the team.
He is also the franchise’s current all-time receptions leader and has the most 1,000-yard seasons in franchise history.
The success of Brady and Welker helped Bill Belichick create a blueprint for the way the offense should be run in future years to come. To assure this of happening, the Patriots drafted the versatile Julian Edelman in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft to be Welker’s future successor.
It’s fair to say that the Patriots saw similar qualities between Welker and Edelman right away.
In 2013, Welker elected to become a free agent after multiple failed attempts at a contract negotiation with New England. He soon hit the open market and joined the Denver Broncos, and when he did, Edelman picked up right where Welker and Brady left off just the season prior.
With Welker now gone, Edelman reeled in over 100 passes, racked up over 1,000 receiving yards, and scored six touchdowns in his first season as a starter. Since then, Edelman has produced nearly 700 yards in every season and has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards three times in his career.
Remember that Welker played through a period of years that included being teammates with one of the most dynamic offensive weapons ever in Randy Moss, while Edelman was teammates with Rob Gronkowski — who, like Moss, would always warrant double-coverage — and who is also considered to be one of the greatest offensive players ever.
As easy as the Welker/Edelman comparison is to make, the two players do differ depending on the angle you look at it … so the easiest comparison to make is in terms of production.
People love to point out how Welker was more productive than Edelman as the reason why he’s the better player of the two.
But looking at the comparison from the aforementioned different angle perspective, Edelman has racked up more than 1,100 all-purpose yards since Welker left the Patriots in 2013.
So I would tell those people that yes, Welker may have had more receptions and yards per season than Edelman has, but Edelman has been more of a workhorse and has been more reliable for the Pats during his career overall.
Welker returned 114 punts in the six years that he was with the Patriots. In the same six-year span from when Edelman took over in 2013, he has returned 105 punts and scored one touchdown. Edelman is also the franchise leader with four punt returns for touchdowns, but he has only scored one from 2013-2019.
Edelman has also proven to be more versatile and reliable than Welker throughout their careers.
As much success as he had while playing for New England, Welker will always be marked by the dropped pass in Super Bowl XLVI, while Edelman on the other hand is remembered for multiple Super Bowl memories … and has the hardware to prove it as a three-time Super Bowl champion and one-time Super Bowl MVP.
Although it only took Welker six seasons to become the Patriots’ all-time receptions leader (672), Edelman — who is currently second behind Welker — only needs 74 more receptions to break the record and become the all-time leader.
Unfortunately for Edelman, this might be the hardest 74 receptions he’s ever had to work for this season, but it is definitely an attainable goal to reach.
In addition to only needing 74 more receptions to break Welker’s franchise record, Edelman also only needs 953 receiving yards to surpass Welker for the third-most in Patriots franchise history.
It’s also fair to say that Edelman is more versatile within the Patriots’ overall scheme than Welker was. On top of being a threatening receiving target, Edelman has also thrown a touchdown pass, scored on special teams, and has even played defense for the Patriots.
In the argument of who was more productive, I guess you have to go with Welker seeing as the numbers never lie. But Edelman has become the ultimate emergency player, and that’s what sets him apart from Welker.
There’s a strong chance that Edelman can put the conversation to rest if he surpasses Welker and becomes the all-time receptions leader in New England Patriots franchise history. The conversation will turn completely moot if (or when) Edelman can also pass Welker for third all-time in receiving yards.