By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — By now, you’ve heard that Julian Edelman was a quarterback in college at least 11 million times. You’ve heard it so much that the impact of hearing such a thing about a critical receiver for a dynastic Patriots run has effectively lost its punch.
But with Edelman now retiring — due to his wheels coming off, as he described it — the full story of Edelman’s improbable career is being told. And as far as the Patriots are concerned, that story began in the fall of 2008.
Pretty much nobody was particularly interested in the goings-on of the Kent State Golden Flashes that season. They were coming off a 3-9 season in 2007, they hadn’t played in a bowl game since 1972, and the school had produced just one draft pick (defensive back Usama Young) in the previous seven years. Kent, Ohio wasn’t exactly a college football hotbed.
And quarterback Julian Edelman wasn’t exactly making it on to SportsCenter every weekend for his work under center for those Golden Flashes. He threw three touchdowns and no picks in the team’s second game of the year — a loss at Iowa State — but by midseason, he had eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Golden Flashes were 1-6, their lone win coming against Delaware State. It got a little better after that, but not a whole lot more better, and Edelman seemingly wrapped up his football career having beaten plenty of odds just to quarterback a D-I program for three years.
Yet as you know, it didn’t end there. As SI’s Albert Breer explained, Patriots Midwest area scout Jim Nagy had seen the way that Edelman ran with the ball. He rushed for 502 yards with 22 touchdowns in his collegiate career and clearly showed something that appealed to Nagy.
According to Breer, Nagy “presented him to his colleagues as an interesting developmental returner/slot prospect at December and February draft meetings.” Nick Caserio, in his second year as director of pro personnel, then went to Ohio to run Edelman through a workout. Caserio “saw enough for New England to take [Edelman] in the seventh round that April.”
Obviously, when Nagy and Caserio focused on Edelman, they saw someone who was worth a late-round flier in the draft. They did not see a receiver who would land directly behind Jerry Rice on the all-time list for playoff receptions and receiving yards, and they didn’t see a future Super Bowl MVP and three-time champion.
But clearly, they saw something in Edelman that at least gave him a chance to become an NFL-caliber player with the football in his hands.
Scott Pioli, who was the vice president of player personnel through the 2008 season, tweeted a picture Monday of the thick binder of information that he’s kept from the time that Nagy identified Edelman as a receiving prospect.
MAD respect Julian Edelman & how YOU worked to become terrific player. YOU did the work & took coaching to develop. All YOU🙏🏽
Have my '09 Draft Book w/ #Patriots 2008 DEC Meeting notes & remember area scout Jim Nagy put him on Pats board as WR in fall & advocated thru crosscheck pic.twitter.com/peqaxdGnMC
— Scott Pioli (@scottpioli51) April 13, 2021
Nagy shared some now-fascinating insight on the information he gathered from the Kent State coaches on Edelman. Some of the traits they described certainly translated to the next level. Among them:
–upper echelon worker
–likes to BS
–wants ball in his hands
–football instincts will help him at WR
–has feet to play DB
And then, the one description that couldn’t have been more accurate:
–most competitive guy I’ve ever coached
Kent State staff comments on Julian Edelman from Fall ‘08. Sounds about right.
* upper echelon worker
* knows his physical limitations
* likes to BS
* wants ball in his hands
* football instincts will help him at WR
* has feet to play DB
* most competitive guy I’ve ever coached pic.twitter.com/bCuyhG7iq3
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) April 12, 2021
And after Piolo credited Nagy for the discovery, Nagy — who left the New England organization before Edelman’s career blossomed — passed on that credit to receivers coach Chad O’Shea.
Appreciate you, Scott. Respect to Pats WR Coach Chad O’Shea for developing Julian into the great player he became.
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) April 13, 2021
O’Shea was the Patriots’ receivers coach from 2009-18, before heading to Miami, where he was the offensive coordinator for one season.
While there’s plenty of credit to go around, most of it of course falls on Edelman himself. He constantly worked to improve, and he accepted any and every assignment with a full-speed, all-out mentality. He averaged 12.3 yards per punt return from 2010-14. Considering the Super Bowl-era career record for punt return average is 12.1 yards, that was mighty good for anyone, let alone a college quarterback.
In the regular season and postseason combined, he caught 738 passes, ran the ball 69 times, threw eight passes (completing seven of them), returned 216 punts (four for touchdowns) and 34 kickoffs, made 24 total tackles, forced three fumbles, recorded two quarterback hits, recovered 14 fumbles, returned one of them for a touchdown on special teams, scored 47 total touchdowns, converted four two-point conversions, and accounted for 290 points. In doing so, he became second on the Patriots’ all-time list for receptions, fourth for receiving yards, third in punt return yards, and first in punt return touchdowns. He is, obviously, the Patriots’ all-time leader in playoff receptions and receiving yards, too.
It’s all more than a little bit unbelievable. And it all began with solid scouting in a place where not many folks were looking in the fall of 2008.