Belichick, who credited longtime sportswriter Rick Gosselin for suggesting that he look at Edelman, said the Patriots worked him out twice. They also watched plenty of video of the 5-10 quarterback at Kent State.
The Patriots already had Tom Brady, so Edelman wasn’t going to play quarterback, but they didn’t know which position he would play.
They drafted Edelman in the seventh round in 2009 and he made the squad as a special-teams player, but that wasn’t all. Besides returning punts and kickoffs, he played some cornerback and wide receiver, all things he hadn’t done previously.
“He’s truly in the mold of one of the great versatile Patriots — Troy Brown, Mike Vrabel — guys like that that have done that for us through the years,” Belichick said Monday morning.
Edelman still returns punts, but he really carved out his spot as a hard-nosed wide receiver. He earned the Super Bowl MVP award after catching 10 passes for 141 yards in a 13-3 victory over the Rams on Sunday night.
In a defensive struggle, Edelman was the one player the Rams couldn’t stop. He had seven catches by halftime, six for first downs.
“I’m so personally happy for Julian, and it’s so rewarding for me to see the success that he’s achieved and be recognized for it last night,” Belichick said. “Nobody has worked harder in my career than Julian to develop his skills and his craft at his position because he didn’t have any background in it.”
Edelman, 32, cemented his place as one of the great postseason players with this Super Sunday performance. His postseason numbers are remarkable, considering where he came from, and nearly unmatched. He has 115 catches for 1,412 yards. Only Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (151 receptions, 2,245 yards) has more.
Edelman sometimes gets lost in the conversation because of all the great players and polarizing figures New England has, from Belichick to Brady to Rob Gronkowski. But Edelman has been a major part of the Patriots’ success on three of their six Super Bowl winners.
“Julian epitomizes the work ethic, toughness, mental toughness and physical toughness, determination, will and just an extraordinary ability to perform under pressure,” Belichick said.
Edelman missed all of the 2017 season after tearing an ACL in the preseason. The Patriots made the Super Bowl without him last year, but they lost to the Eagles.
Edelman worked tirelessly to return and make sure he was available for the Patriots in the biggest game this time. But he also was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the 2018 season for using performance-enhancing drugs.
When Edelman returned, he showed few effects from the major knee injury and was an impact player. He caught 74 passes for 850 yards and six touchdowns in 12 regular-season games and had 26 catches for 388 yards in three postseason games.
“I’ve been kind of trained, being in New England, to always look what’s on your plate at the time,” Edelman said. “When you get hurt, you’re competing against yourself each day to try and get your knee better. You’re walking one day and jogging one day and getting to cut one day. Those little wins build confidence, and you worry about that.”
Edelman always had the work ethic, but he said being around Brady and Belichick made him work harder. He said when he got to the Patriots, he was amazed at how much Brady, a three-time Super Bowl champion at the time, put into the game. Edelman also remembered working out at the facility well after hours as a rookie and saw Belichick on a treadmill watching video at about 10 p.m.
“When you see guys doing that, it’s going to rub off,” Edelman said. “If it doesn’t, then you’re probably not going to be there.”
Edelman made sure he put in the work to stay there, and the Patriots are better for it.