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Examining the versatility of Terrell Edmunds for the Steelers

What will the Steelers continue to get by bringing back Terrell Edmunds for 2022?

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are heading into the 2022 NFL draft with a viable starter at every position. Admittedly coming up short at strong safety, the Steelers signed Terrell Edmunds to a one-year deal less than a week before the start of the draft. So what about Terrell Edmunds does he bring to the Steelers yet again for 2022? This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

Starting 60 regular season games over the last four seasons, Terrell Edmunds brings availability to the Steeler strong safety position. Missing only one game in his career, a meaningless Week 17 matchup in Cleveland at the end of the 2020 season, Edmunds has been the biggest fixture in the Steeler secondary since 2018. Logging over 4,000 regular season snaps in his four years says it all.

But what has Terrell Edmunds done with his time on the field? With five career interceptions, he has had two picks in each season the last two years. Edmunds saw his career high in passes defensed with eight in 2020 and had another six in 2021. Although he has 340 combine tackles in the regular season, Edmunds has been credited with 32 missed tackles in four seasons according to Pro Football Reference. The 2021 saw his highest percentage of missed tackles of 10.1% as he missed 10 tackles while being successful on 89 others.

Although credited with giving up two passing touchdowns in 2021 by Pro Football Reference, Edmunds saw career best in yards per target at 4.2 for 2021. Targeted 53 times, he gave up 30 completions for only 224 yards.

One way in which Edmunds has really helped the Steelers defense over the last four years is the quality of coverage against the tight end position. Many Steelers fans remember Rob Gronkowski going for 168 yards on nine receptions in 2017, or pulling in three touchdown passes in Week 1 of 2015. In the only game Gronkowski has play the Steelers with Terrell Edmunds, he had two receptions for 21 yards in 2018. But more than Gronkowski, the Steelers have only given up 100 yards receiving to a tight end four times since they drafted Terrell Edmunds in the first round of 2018. One of those games was Edmunds’ first start in Week 2 of 2018 against the Kansas City Chiefs. But for the most part, especially when Edmunds is the one responsible for coverage, the Steelers defense against tight ends has greatly improved.

So what else does Edmunds bring to the table? This is a much better question to be answered on the film side of things.

The Film Line:

The number one thing that stands out on film is the variety of alignments where the Steelers use Terrell Edmunds differently. In 2021 with the run defense struggling and plenty of new faces in the secondary, the Steelers leaned even more heavily on Edmunds’ ability to line up everywhere on the field. Edmunds lined up as a deep safety, in the slot, in the box like an extra linebacker, outside as a corner (mostly against jumbo sets) and even up on the defensive line against certain offensive alignments.

One game the Steelers leaned particularly hard on Edmunds’ versatility was in Week 15 of 2021. The Steelers were facing the Titans, a top rushing offense with some high-end receivers. Week 15 was also both Joe Haden and Robert Spillane’s first game back from injury, and they played sparingly.

We’ll start by looking at the alignment Edmunds played the most in 2021, in the box.

Steelers vs. Titans, 1st quarter, 5:11.

Terrell Edmunds is #34, second from the bottom, off the line.

Edmunds is a late addition to the box, and he ends up in a spot the Steelers used him a good bit when Akhello Witherspoon was starting. Witherspoon is the outside corner to the bottom, where Joe Haden usually plays. But while Joe Haden is a phenomenal tackler and run defender, Akhello Witherspoon is most definitely not. With Haden outside, Edmunds was typically called on to be deep help for Haden, but with Witherspoon playing, Edmunds is called on to play the run, defend short routes, screens, and players in the flat like this play.

Edmunds reads the play, covers the tight end in the flat and he’s in position to prevent a first down.

Steelers vs. Titans, 3rd quarter, 11:36.

Terrell Edmunds (#34) is to the right side of the screen, right behind T.J. Watt

On this play Edmunds is lined up like a linebacker. Devin Bush is lined up straight across from the RB like a 4-3 MLB, while Edmunds is in a 4-3 outside linebacker alignment. This is a common spot for Edmunds in 2021. With the Steelers defensive line struggling, he often was used as a 3rd off-ball linebacker in nickel packages.

This is the strength he brings to the role. He stays behind Watt, making it hard for blockers to get to him, and he reads the play, sniffs out the screen, and the Titans lose four yards on the play.

Steelers vs. Titans, 2nd quarter, 8:55.

Terrell Edmunds is #34, farthest to the top of the screen on the line.

Here is Edmunds in one of the rarer snaps when he lined up on the defensive line, and he is blocked by a tight end on this play. His job is to set the edge and force the runner to stay inside where the help defense should be coming for him. Edmunds holds up his end of the deal, and on this play the rest of the defense does too, with Chris Wormley and Henry Mondeaux arriving to finish the play.

Edmunds is not going to have success on any play an offensive lineman or even a better blocking tight end/fullback get to him, he’s not a linebacker. But when he gets a more reasonable matchup, he can absolutely hold his own.

Terrell Edmunds’ second most common alignment was in the slot, where he led the team in slot snaps.

Steelers vs. Titans, 2nd quarter, 5:34.

Terrell Edmunds is the slot defender to the top of the screen.

The Steelers are in a 7-man front and the Titans put two receivers to the offensive right. The Steelers counter by bringing Edmunds up into the slot role to cover veteran receiver Julio Jones. This play is designed to get Jones on either an outside corner that has moved into the slot where they might not navigate the switch release well, or a matchup on a safety who won’t be able to cover Jones on that out-cut.

Edmunds is up to the task though, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill looks off of Jones, his first read, and throws up a prayer into the end zone.

Steelers vs. Titans, 4th quarter, 12:05.

Terrell Edmunds is the slot defender to the top of the screen.

Terrell Edmunds is not a cornerback. You don’t want him in press coverage against a shiftier receiver, and he doesn’t do the best being physical in defending a route like Arthur Maulet (third from bottom). You are more likely to get a penalty asking a safety to do that. What he shows here is his burst to the ball at the receivers cut.

Lastly, Edmunds still played a good portion of snaps in a deep safety alignment.

Steelers vs. Titans, 3rd quarter, 8:45.

Terrell Edmunds is #34, to the far right side of the screen.

Even when he is aligned like a deep safety, and is clearly responsible for that half of the field, Edmunds is still looking to help in the box. Here he again sniffs out a screen and records another tackle for a loss when the Titans thought they had an advantage for a quick tunnel screen.

Steelers vs. Titans, 3rd quarter, 8:54.

Terrell Edmunds is the deep safety to the bottom of the screen.

This is one of those rare plays where straight-line speed actually matters. The Titans see Joe Haden fresh back from injury, showing limited mobility and go deep with a route combo that is commonly used to take Minkah Fitzpatrick out of the play. You see the receiver to the top cutting in at the first down line, and Fitzpatrick is watching that route when he senses the receiver behind him. Fitzpatrick is out of the play, and it’s just Edmunds versus Cody Hollister, a 6’4” athletic depth receiver. Edmunds is up to the challenge and not only stays with the receiver, but closes on him, making the window for Ryan Tannehill very small, and when the QB fails to hit the perfect throw Edmunds gets his hands on the ball to break it up.

The Point:

Terrell Edmunds isn’t going to give you All-Pro coverage from any alignment, and he isn’t a splash play maker. Terrell Edmunds’ strength is being able to play from multiple alignments and give you quality NFL starter-level snaps. He’s not the best player at any position, but he’s one of the better players on the team in any number of roles, allowing the Steelers to counter number advantages, negate mismatches and free up other players to play to their strengths.