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Crunching the Numbers: Comparing Terrell Edmunds and Troy Polamalu in their first six games

The Steelers have only drafted two true safeties in the first round of the NFL draft.

Wild Card Playoffs - Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Since The NFL draft began in 1936, the Pittsburgh Steelers have only taken a player whose primary position was safety twice in 83 years. Players such as Rod Woodson (1987), Ron Johnson (1978), Dave Brown (1975), and J.T. Thomas (1973) ended up playing safety at some point in their career but were initially cornerbacks when they entered the league. It wasn’t until 2003 when the Steelers traded up from the 27th position (giving up third and sixth round picks) to select Troy Polamalu 18th overall when the Steelers drafted their first true safety.

Polamalu ended his career being selected to the Pro Bowl eight times, First Team All Pro four times, and Second Team All Pro twice. Additionally, Polamalu was the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year. After his retirement following the 2014 season, it will only be a matter of waiting the required five years before Polamalu will be enshrined in Canton.

In 2018, the Steelers selected Terrell Edmunds in the first round of the NFL draft with the 28th pick. Many of the so-called “football experts” felt a first-round choice was a reach, but the Steelers saw something they really liked with Edmunds’ size, speed, and football IQ.

Whether or not Edmunds will have even a shadow of the career Troy Polamalu had in Pittsburgh will remain to be seen. Since Edmunds only has a six game sample so far of his NFL career, if any comparisons are going to be drawn with a great Troy Polamalu it will have to be over the same six-game sample. Ironically, the Steelers had a Week 7 bye in the rookie seasons of both Edmunds and Polamalu, so taking a look at their comparative stats through the bye week lines up perfectly for an early evaluation.

In 2003, the Steelers entered their bye week with a record of 2-4. Out of the six games before the bye, Troy Polamalu had not started in any game, nor did he start for the remainder of the season. Being primarily used on special teams and in dime packages, Polamalu did not have impressive stats as a rookie. Through his first six games, Troy recorded one pass defended, 11 tackles (7 solo, 4 assisted), and one tackle for loss. Unfortunately, Pro Football Reference did not begin recording snap counts in each game until 2012. Since I have neither the game films nor the extensive time it would take to log the snap counts myself, I cannot say what percentage of the plays Troy Polamalu played on defense in his first six games.

In 2018, the Steelers entered the bye week with the record of 3-2-1. Terrell Edmunds officially started five of the six games the Steelers have played this season, with the lone exception being Week 2 against Kansas City. So far in 2018, Edmunds has recorded two passes defended, 21 tackles (16 solo, 5 assisted), one interception with a return of 35 yards, one fumble recovery, and one quarterback hit.

What has been surprising about Edmunds is the amount of plays he has been forced in to due to the injury of Morgan Burnett. In the last four games, Edmunds has played 100% of the snaps on defense. With 388 total defensive snaps, Edmunds has been on the field for 90% of the plays for defensive coordinator Keith Butler. Adding another 106 snaps on special teams, Edmonds is only six snaps shy of 500 plays in the NFL in his first six games.

During Polamalu’s rookie season, there was an ongoing narrative of him not being worth the price of the trade and the draft position where he was taken. I’m pretty sure those same people did not sing the same tune after Polamalu’s career had finished.

As for Edmonds, he did have a rough start in his first few games, but has vastly improved. Certain football intangibles such as high football IQ, natural instinct, and unwillingness to give up on the play show there is much to be excited about with Edmonds going forward. Does this mean that he will have even half of the success Polamalu had at the same position in his career? I’m not sure, but I will definitely be watching intently.

Unfortunately for Terrell Edmonds, Troy Polamalu is the only other standard to compare him to as a first-round safety selection for the Pittsburgh Steelers. For the first six games, it seems Edmonds is living up to the standard set before him. But it was Polamalu’s second season when Dick LeBeau returned as defensive coordinator where Troy made his first Pro Bowl in route to a Steelers’ 15-1 regular season record.

I personally think Edmunds shows a lot of promise as a safety in the NFL. I don’t expect the enormous jump in year two Polamalu experienced, but continual progression will help to define Edmunds’ career. As long as he is trending in the upward direction, I feel the Steelers could establish having a knack for drafting safeties in the first round.