The NFL Draft rumor mill might point to the Oakland Raiders drafting Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, but Tremaine Edmunds just might be the better player.
Tremaine Edmunds has been a somewhat polarizing player during the draft ‘process’ the past few months. At just 19 years of age, Edmunds is regarded as a raw prospect, though the tape suggests he may be far more polished than what some analysts would have you believe. Edmunds is a physical freak at 6-foot-5, 253 pounds, and his unique traits have gifted him with all the tools to be a superb three-down linebacker in the NFL. His stock has been steadily rising over the last three months, so much so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were the first linebacker off the board in a few weeks time at the draft.
Edmunds’ strength is clearly in the run game. He is always on his toes shifting his weight forward at the snap, anticipating the run. Despite having prototypical size of a “thumper” at the linebacker position, Edmunds has immense speed, which enables him to get to the edge and contain, with relative ease.
Simply put, running to the edge on Edmunds’ side of the field is fraught with danger. He is so fast that he frequently gets to the edge before the lead blocker. Additionally, for someone who is perceivably so ‘raw,’ Edmunds tackling technique here is near perfection. He hits the running back square in the chest wrapping him up with both arms ensuring the he can’t break it. Having watched more than six full games of Edmunds, it was clearly evident that his tackling technique was better than many linebackers already in the pros. He is so fundamentally sound in this area of the game, as shown by his open field wrap up in the clip below.
Edmunds is not only fast, but he’s incredibly strong. Unlike many speedy linebackers, Edmunds has impeccable size and is able to translate this size to be a force in the run game in short yardage and goal line situations.
These two consecutive plays show a multitude of strengths to Edmunds’ game. On the first play he quickly reads the hole and stuffs the running behind the line of scrimmage with perfect tackling technique. The second play is arguably more impressive. He initially gets blocked well at the point of attack, but is able to shed the block and get his hands on the running back, stopping them short of the goal line. Despite the back having all the momentum, they instantly hit the ground upon the tackle from Edmunds. Having the speed to contain the edge while the size and strength to stuff runners at the goal line is truly a unique skill set not possessed by many in the NFL. At times, Edmunds did hit the wrong hole, and the running back would take advantage. That being said, this was a rare occurrence, and one would expect this to be rectified as he develops in the pros.
Edmunds has all the tools to be a great cover linebacker in the NFL, but he is going to need work in this area. At Virginia Tech, the coaches utilized him at all three linebacker positions, and even lined him up in the slot of wide receivers at times. It was from the slot in which he made a signature play that certainly made the scouts take notice.
In the above clip Edmunds is lined up in the slot on a wide receiver. He drops back and immediately comes down hard on the receiver with an explosive burst, breaking up the pass. The pass wasn’t perfect by the quarterback in that it was behind the receiver, though had the pass been in front of the receiver’s face, Edmunds would have picked it off and took it for six points the other way. Edmunds is not going to be asked to cover wide receivers in the pros, but his speed and agility in this clip shows that he can handle man-to-man coverage. This can be further seen in the following clip, in which Edmunds is in man coverage on a running back.
Edmunds is lined up on a running back who runs a wheel route down the left sideline. For many linebackers, coverage further down the field in space, especially on a speedy running back, can be a problem. Not for Edmunds, though. Edmunds flips his hips perfectly and walls the RB off, not giving an inch of a throwing window.
That being said, there are times when Edmunds gets out of position in the passing game. He has a tendency to be shifting his weight onto his toes, and while that is great to anticipate the snap, he often will get caught out in the passing game. Like I identified with Roquan Smith last week, Edmunds can get caught in ‘no man’s land’ on play action passes. That is, he bites hard on the play action fake, resulting in not getting deep enough in his coverage drop, nor being close enough to affect the QB as a pass rusher.
Here, Edmunds is taken out of the play on the play action pass, and the QB is able to throw it over Edmunds to the receiver. This is a problem for many linebackers in college, and should be correctable as he matures.
It is my opinion that Edmunds is by far a better fit than Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith for the Raiders, simply because the tape suggests Edmunds more or less can do everything that Roquan can do in coverage (that will translate to the pro level), and is far superior in the run game.
At times, Edmunds can play a bit out of control, playing too fast and not getting his feet under him to enable him to take the necessary angles in open space. What was promising however was that Edmunds was able to correct this during games. As shown in the clip below, he has zero control approaching the receiver in the first play and misses the tackle, but on the very next play, he makes a subtle adjustment in his approach, making the tackle for a small gain. Being a quick on the fly learner who is able to adjust whilst on the field is a great sign for the 19 year old.
Given Edmunds’ size, he has a lot of potential as a pass rusher, both as an off-ball linebacker, and from the edge. It is his pass rushing that needs most work, but he does display a few traits on tape that will translate well in the NFL. When used on stunts in particular, his closing speed is impressive, especially when the stunt gets him a free line to the QB.
As shown in the above clip, even on a short drop, he’s is able to get into the QB’s face and force a rushed throw. Where he needs work is against interior lineman. He has a tendency to get stonewalled on first impact, and once stonewalled, he doesn’t continue to fight through the play. It happened multiple times throughout the games I watched, and certainly wasn’t a one off. Any competent NFL defensive coach will be able to train this out of him though.
Edmunds is the kind of player you can build your front seven around. He can play in both a 4-3 and 3-4 front, at any of the positions along the second level. Given he is so young, he may be best off starting as a strong side linebacker in a 4-3, before transitioning to the middle in a year or two as he matures. Given his unique blend of size and speed, it won’t be long for him to become a three-down linebacker in the pros. It is my opinion that Edmunds is by far a better fit than Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith for the Raiders, simply because the tape suggests Edmunds more or less can do everything that Roquan can do in coverage (that will translate to the pro level), and is far superior in the run game. If heis available at #10, it would be no surprise if the Raiders get him on the phone real quick. Then again, given his recent hype, he may not even make it that far, as Indianapolis is said to be enamored with him and they control the 6th pick in the first round.