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Steelers 2018 NFL Draft Reaction: Terrell Edmunds, S, Virginia Tech

The Steelers’ first pick of the 2018 NFL Draft caught just about everyone by surprise. Very few “experts” saw him as a first round talent. Of course, many of those same “experts” thought former Browns quarterback Tim Couch was a slam dunk. Maybe, the lesson here is that we should see for ourselves before we pass judgement. What I’ve seen so far of Terrell Edmunds has me wondering if the “experts” are wrong again.

NFL: NFL Draft Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

My first reaction to Ryan Shazier announcing the Steelers’ 2018 first-round pick Thursday night — aside from getting a bit teary-eyed at the sight of him walking across the stage — was that he decided to make a joke that fell flat.

I say that, because I am not all that familiar with Terrell Edmunds. Chances are pretty good that you aren’t, either.

You know his brother, of course: Tremaine Edmunds, who is quite possibly the best linebacker in the 2018 draft. I thought Shazier was simply playing on the Steelers’ penchant for drafting linebackers in the first round, and was simply throwing out the name of an absolute stud, albeit one who had already been drafted earlier in the evening. Maybe, I thought, Shazier sees some of himself in the Virgina Tech linebacker. But, I quickly realized it was no joke. It was at this point when my brain temporarily short-circuited, then rebooted.

Tremaine — Edmunds the Younger, for our purposes here — was my pipe-dream pick. Knowing it would even be a stretch to think Alabama’s Rashaan Evans or Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch would be available at 28, I told almost anyone who would listen that I’d love to see Edmunds inexplicably fall down through the first round, much in the way Harold Landry did. I said, “man, I’d really love the Steelers to draft Edmunds.”

Maybe I should have been more specific.

That’s not to say I don’t really like the pick. The more film I watch, the more I like Brother Terrell. Sure, I imagine some of that is the rose-colored glasses. Part of me would like Barney Fife if he was announced by Ryan Shazier after he walked, under his own power, to the podium. But there really is a lot to like about Edmunds.

First, consider that Justin Reid was still available. Now, consider this: Reid and Edmunds have nearly identical stats in every category, on both a per-season basis and across their collegiate careers. And when you watch Edmunds on film, he seems to pop off the screen more so than Reid. Really, it’s a nonstop energy that you notice first about Terrell Edmunds. But, unlike some other guys who seem to be a constant blur on the screen, he harnesses it well. Despite being a hard-hitting safety who is a more-than-willing tackler, he generally tackles well. Yes, he takes bad angles from time to time in the open field and, yes, I’ve seen runners get by him when he tries to tackle them by their legs. But I’ve watched multiple games, including 2017 against Clemson, and the good far, far outweighs the bad.

Edmunds has surprisingly fluid hips for a safety, so much so that it’s not at all uncommon to see him in man coverage. He does an excellent job covering backs out of the backfield and against tight ends. His pre-snap reads are excellent, and he sticks like glue when manned up against just about anyone, at least on more simplistic routes. And he’s fast. His 4.47 40-yard dash time at the Combine was good for eighth among safeties, and he plays even faster. In pads, he has speed to spare.

On the other side of the coin, he can bite hard on double moves from time to time, and sometimes doesn’t get out of his backpedal soon enough in single-high coverage. This has allowed some faster receivers to get by him on occasion, leaving him susceptible to the big play. However, it’s not likely the Steelers see him as a centerfielder, anyway. At 6’-1” and 217 pounds, he’s a lot closer to Kam Chancellor than he is to Ed Reed. It’s likely they will rely on Sean Davis to play more of the single-high role, while using Edmunds and free-agent acquisition Morgan Burnett closer to the line. Given his rare combination of size and speed, he could end up playing often as a “money backer”, or a linebacker/safety hybrid. Having a player who can fill that role will be critical without Shazier on the field in 2018.

But the bottom line is Edmunds gives the Steelers a lot of options. He may not be a master of any one position or skill, but he’s very good in just about all of them. The Virginia Tech coaches saw that in him, too. If you want to know just how highly the Hokies thought of him, consider where they lined him up. In just the four games I’ve watched, I’ve seen him as an in-the-box safety, in single-high, in the middle in three-deep coverage, man-to-man in the slot, 4-3 outside linebacker (specifically against Clemson) and even in man coverage as an outside cornerback (again, against Clemson). Versatility is the name of the game and, considering Terrell Edmunds has it in spades, it’s no wonder he endeared himself to Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert, who preach the need for players to be “multiple”.

Edmunds fits the bill for a Steelers first-round pick: supremely athletic, versatile, an underclassman, from a Power Five school, high character and has a massive stockpile of upside. He’s an awful lot like Artie Burns, but with a lot more polish coming out of school. He may be as polarizing of a pick as Burns, perhaps even more so, at least until we finally get to see him on the field against other professionals. Then, and only then, will we know if this was the worst first-round pick of the Colbert/Tomlin era, or if it was one of their shrewder moves. From what I’ve seen with my own eyes, though, it looks solid, if unspectacular and unexpected — pundits be damned.

Still, in the end, the Steelers drafted an Edmunds. It’s what I wanted all along, right?