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Tremaine Edmunds, OLB, Virginia Tech — Best in linebacker class

Virginia Tech v East Carolina Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

I am sure most will argue the case for Bradley Chubb to be regarded as the best defensive player in this draft class, but it is very rare to find a player who can play off the edge like Khalil Mack, drop back into pass coverage like Zach Thomas and wreak havoc in the backfield like Jason Taylor. With all of those obvious qualities, our case for the top-rated assessment of Tremaine Edmunds is featured below.

Tremaine Edmunds - Virginia Tech

Edmunds Statistical Breakdown vs. the Passing Game: Opponents targeted 95 passes into the weak-side linebacker’s territory, completing 29 of those chances (30.53%)…Made 22 solo tackles on catches that generated 113 yards (5.14 ypc) and assisted on other take-downs after seven receptions that totaled 37 yards (5.29 ypc)…The linebacker recorded three touchdown-saving tackles and either rerouted or jammed his coverage assignments away from 38 other pass attempts (40% of the targeted tosses), in addition to deflecting six passes and intercepting another…Allowed just six catches for first downs, as he posted 32 third-down stops and five more on fourth-down snaps… The linebacker also tackled four receivers at the line of scrimmage for no gain on those plays.

The 2017 Season: The All-American and All-Atlantic Coast Conference first-team post-season selection by The NFL Draft Report, Edmunds did “more than enough” to live up to that scouting information service’s assessment of him – the best left outside linebacker in college football.

Body Structure: Edmunds has a well-proportioned frame with an athletic physique that can actually carry at least another 10 pounds of bulk without the weight impacting his overall quickness. He has very good upper body muscle definition, tight waist and hips, along with a strong lower body, evident by the way he can firmly hold ground and drive back lead blockers to attack the rush lanes consistently. He has long arms, big hands and a good-sized bubble and good shoulder and neck thickness.

Athletic Ability: Edmunds has excellent athletic mobility and agility for his position. He has quickness to make plays working downhill and has improved his footwork in order to change direction quicker than he did in the past (would take too many extra steps, but has improved his 40-yard dash time to 4.84 from 4.72). He shows the balance to stay on his feet shooting the inside gaps and the flexibility to redirect and slip off blocks coming off the edge to penetrate the backfield (see 2017 Delaware, Pittsburgh and Virginia games). He has the ability to chase the ball along the sidelines and gives good effort trying to collapse the pocket. He also surprised scouts this year, as his improved second gear allowed him to stay on the hip of receivers on intermediate patterns and he has good hand placement to disrupt the receiver’s route progression (see 2017 Boston College, Miami and Virginia games). While he makes most of his plays downhill, he has the ability to create and slip blocks. He runs with a normal stride and builds his acceleration nicely to get to top speed. He has the body control to maintain position when facing initial contact from the bigger blockers, but must keep his hands active to prevent offensive linemen from locking on to his jersey or engulfing him. He plays at a low pad level and shows enough burst to get past blockers coming off the edge. he also possesses the strength to gain leverage and shed at the next level.

Football Sense: Edmunds is a highly intelligent and instinctive player, but not the type that will “out-think” himself on the field. He is a quick reactor to action in front of him and easily picks things up well, showing no problem taking plays from the chalkboard to the playing field. There should be no issues with him digesting a complicated playbook. He is simply a smart, instinctive player who does everything the coaches ask and more. He is reliable, works hard in the weight room and is a self-starter. He takes well to hard coaching and is the unquestioned leader of the defensive unit. He reads the quarterback well, as it is rare to see him fooled by misdirection or play action. The move to strong-side (left) linebacker has allowed him to show scouts that he is very capable of locating receivers quickly working underneath. With his natural instincts for the game, some coach will soon become comfortable letting him make the calls on defense, much like the confidence Minnesota showed in Chad Greenway earlier in his pro career. He is quick to adjust on the field and always plays at full speed.

He has really developed his read and react skills the last two seasons, as he has the field vision and smarts to excel as a weak-side linebacker. He appears very good at keeping the action in front of him and is a hard worker who flashes aggression, but will not overreact and get caught up in a slugfest when he locates the ball and has to combat multiple blockers while working through trash. He shows a good feel for plays in front of him and has no problems digesting the playbook. He continues to pick up blocking schemes well and no matter where he is positioned, he has a good grasp of the playbook and a very good understanding of most game situations.

Athletic Report

Key and Diagnostic Skills: This is Edmunds’ best asset, as he always seems to be in position to make the play. He is outstanding with his diagnostic ability and when he locates the ball, all regard for his own safety “goes out the window” in his quest to make the play. He is disciplined in run containment (see 2016 Boston College, East Carolina, Miami, Georgia Tech games) and charges hard coming off the edge to disrupt the pocket. He comes off the snap with a good, strong rise and is very forceful using his hands to shed when engaging the lead blocker. He is very intuitive, quick to read and react, especially on action in front of him. He might not be quick enough to be utilized in deep pass coverage, but he is always around the football when he keeps the action in front of him. He shows urgency when around the football and determination to create havoc once he gets into the backfield (is tied for the school season-record with 18.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage- see 2016 Boston College, Miami, Duke games). He will get tied up at times when challenged by much bigger blockers, but he is becoming much more comfortable using his hands and spin move to avoid, rather than take on offensive tackles when in pursuit of the quarterback. He has above average instincts coming off the snap, and keeps those hands very active to get past offensive tackles when coming off the edge.

Edmunds has the range to get to the ball suddenly, doing a nice job of opening his hips to change direction and string the plays out. He shows above average instincts and awareness. He makes fluid and decisive adjustments on the move and has a good nose for the plays in front of him. When he sees the plays develop, he has good reactions to misdirection and play action (see 2017 Delaware, Clemson, Duke and Virginia games). He has developed a natural feel for the keeping the action in front of him and can track and flow to the ball well. With his “check-&-go” ability, along with his natural quickness, he is a dangerous threat to constantly impact the pocket while blitzing from the weak-side position (might yield considerable bulk to the left offensive tackles, but few have the footwork to retreat and gain advantage when Edmunds comes out of his stance with suddenness). Edmunds has the field vision and patience to not only make his keys and react with urgency once he locates the ball, but also not bite on misdirection and play action. He is very good at anticipating blocking schemes, as he knows how to use his hands inside his frame to prevent from getting washed out on plays. When he tries to combat the bigger offensive lineman, he utilizes quick hand action and a nifty spin move to avoid and escape rather that take on and engage.

Playing Strength and Explosion: Edmunds is quick to shed blocks thanks to his active hands and long arms that he uses effectively to keep blockers off his body. He keeps position and has a solid club move to separate from the larger blockers. He is more explosive than strong, at the moment, but generates natural pop upon contact. His ability to shock and jolt with his hands allows him to compensate for the size/bulk difference when facing up to the offensive linemen. He takes on the lead blocker and holds his ground at the point of attack. When he gets his hands on an opponent, he will usually leverage, shed and attack the ball. Playing him on the weak-side is where he is best suited, but when attaching himself to tight ends, slot receivers and the runners in the two-back set, he has become highly proficient in jamming and rerouting opponents away from the thrown ball (has allowed only nine catches of 42 balls targeted into his area in 2017, rerouting receivers away from 21 of those throws).

Lateral Pursuit/Range: Edmunds is an athlete with sudden explosion to the ball. He has excellent sideline-to-sideline range and ease of movement with outstanding balance. His flexibility allows him to plant, stop and redirect suddenly. He has valid closing speed and knows how to take proper angles to shorten the field. His change of direction agility allows him to turn and run on the ball. He uses his hands effectively to shed blocks and flow to the play. He has the agility to thread through traffic (see 2017 Delaware, North Carolina, Miami, Pittsburgh and Virginia games) and the quickness to close. Edmunds covers the whole field and is especially effective chasing from the backside with an explosive burst. Rarely does he take bad angles. His hand usage lets him avoid blockers on the move, showing the desire to get to the ball and cut off the ball carrier. You can see that when he operates in the second level for pass coverage, that he has the lateral moves and run-&-chase ability to make plays along the sidelines. He keeps his feet and balance working through trash, more than enough to play in a stand-up position (has similarities to the 49ersAldon Smith). He chases very well moving to the outside runners and makes many of his downfield tackles through sheer hustle.

Use of Hands: This is one area where Edmunds excels, evident by his ability to consistently disrupt the receiver’s route progression (see 2017 Boston College, Miami and Virginia games). He controls his opponents by his ability to use his hands to slip off blocks. When he gets his hands on the tight end, he shows the strength needed to disrupt the opponent’s release (jammed receivers on 21 pass attempts in 2017). With the added bulk in 2017, he has become more effective when he has to shed blocks at the point of attack. His hands are always active when handling pass coverage assignments, but you would like to see him go after the ball more to come up with the big play, rather than try to take on the man. He uses his hands effectively to keep blockers off his feet, but even for a former prep tight end, he does not time the pass well to be effective as a pass thief (just one interception and five pass deflections in 39 games).

Tackling Ability: Edmunds might be the most technically sound tackler in the 2018 NFL Draft Linebacker Class. Yes, you would like him to pile on hits and play as if his “hair is on fire,” but he works well in containing the run when operating in tight areas and he is a classic wrap-up tackler – with arms inside his frame, low pad level and the skills to attack the outside leg of a ball carrier to impact the runner’s forward progress after the initial hit (see 2016 Boston College, Miami, Georgia Tech games). He is not as effective maintaining balance working in space and speedy tailbacks can beat him in the open field when he takes a side rather than square up and wrap. When he hits a ball carrier, usually he will bring his man down right at the spot. He has functional body control and above average power to face up and wrap up with explosive strikes to punish. There are times when he will get too narrow with his base in space and is better off playing along the line of scrimmage. He has a punishing hand punch, but when he tries to grab-tackle rather than wrap, the quicker backs can escape his initial hit. He does show good body control making plays on the move in the short-to-intermediate areas, but he is much more effective playing in close quarters, as he seems much more decisive breaking down vs. plays in front of him. He has more than enough strength to jolt on contact. He shows solid wrap-up tackling technique and hip snap to push back lead blockers and close inside rush lanes. He just needs to work on adjusting and finishing the play when working in space.

Edmunds makes things happen on the field thanks to his range and arm tackling ability. He knows how to shorten the field by taking proper angles and has the lateral agility to flow to the ball. He stays square and does a good job of wrapping and securing. He plays at a good pad level and while he is still developing more strength for the next level (power is fine for the weak-side linebacker position), he is an explosive hitter with the pop to drop running backs (tackled-for-loss or stopped at the line of scrimmage for no gain a total of 75 ball carriers on 192 plays he made vs. the run during his career). He brings his arms properly to fit and secure. Even though he plays with reckless abandon, he is not prone to over-pursuing the play. He is an athletic tackler who will bring the ball carrier down when he faces up to his opponent.

Run Defense: When Edmunds is active with his hands, he has the moves to slip and avoid blockers to get through trash, but is best playing vs. the outside run than working in-line. When having to cover the inside rush, he still needs to add more strength to prevent the offensive linemen from riding him out, if they are able to lock on to him. He does have functional strength at the point of attack, but must rely more on his quickness in order to step up and take on the lead blocks. When he uses his hands effectively, Edmunds is capable of filling the gaps. The thing I like about him is, even when the bigger blockers attack him, he works hard to get back into the play. He is best utilizing his change of direction and speed on the corners, where he can get to the ball carrier and cut off the play. He runs through traffic well and has the stop-&-go action to recover when he over-pursues. His speed lets him cut off runners with his backside pursuit and is very good at maintaining leverage and keeping containment vs. the outside run. He shows great agility and balance in that area, as he stays on his feet, clears trash and gets to the ball thanks to his quickness and speed.

He can punch and extend vs. lead blockers and holds his ground firmly when operating at a proper pad level vs. offensive linemen. Where he has his most success is when he uses his hands to shed and then get in front of the play to wrap-tackle. He keeps his feet and can string plays out in short area pursuit, as his low pad level allows him to generally take away the cutback. But, when he gets out of control or upright in his stance, he does not have the blazing speed or sudden change of direction agility to recover. Against the inside ground game, he is much quicker attempting to fill. He is tenacious enough and active with his hands enough to defeat combo blocks or keep opponents off his chest. If he gets a quick read on the play, more often than not, he will make the tackle unblocked.

Pass Defense: Edmunds has good quickness, just not enough to stay on deep routes when challenged by speedier receivers. He is best served redirecting the opponent at the line of scrimmage and shows good urgency in his attempts to reroute his pass coverage assignments. He has the balance and hand placement needed to easily handle tight ends and short area running backs in passing situations (no tight end caught a pass vs. him in 2017 and just 21.43% (9-of-42) of the passes targeted into his area were caught this year). You can see that he excels when running with the tight end down the seam, as he is also very alert to action in front of him.

The Hokies scheme does not expose their linebackers to much man coverage, so most of Edmunds’ success in passing situations comes from using his hands as weapons to jam or reroute receivers in the short area. He does not have the recovery skills when a receiver gets behind him, but he excels at anticipating the count and quarterback, as you will never see him bite on play action or misdirection. He has more than enough field vision and awareness to pick up tight ends, slot receivers and backs into the second level, but without great change of direction agility or flexibility in his hips, he won’t get the depth with proper angle and position to take on opponents racing into the deep secondary. He is better suited in short area man coverage, but when playing the intermediate zone, he does show a feel for routes.

Zone Defense: This is an area that he has very good experience in, as he has a very good feel for reading the quarterback. Edmunds is not the type that will eye the backfield too long and he always seems to anticipate what the opposing passer might be thinking. He has the speed and recovery ability to shadow receivers through their routes, and is quick to recognize the patterns developing. When he gets a read on the play, he has the quickness to suddenly break on the ball.

Pass Rush and Blitz: Edmunds showed last year that he can be a disruptive force when he slips into the backfield as an edge rusher. He continued to improve in this area in 2017 and has 35.0 tackles-for-loss to his credit, the second-highest total by a Virginia Tech player since they joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004. He uses his long arms well to play off blocks and accelerates to close with urgency (see 2017 Delaware, Miami, Georgia Tech and Virginia games). He shows good vision and determination when trying to flush out the quarterback. When he turns the corner, he is quick to close on the quarterback. He charges hard on the blitz (see 2017 Delaware, Pittsburgh and Virginia games) and has more than enough initial burst to make plays when he gets a lane working inside. When he short arms, he can get absorbed inside. He gives total effort coming off the edge and shows explosion when left uncontested.

Closing on the Quarterback: Edmunds has that burst that consistently surprises a lethargic blocker. When left out on an island, he is very capable of delivering the “knock out” blow to the quarterback. He does get out of control, at times, but you would rather that he plays with a relentless motor than just pick his moments. When he gets some space shooting the gaps, he takes dead aim for the quarterback. If he breaks free from his blockers, he can generate lots of heat in the backfield with his quick pursuit (see 2017 Delaware, Pittsburgh and Virginia games. He has the burst to close on the quarterback off twists and games. Even in long pursuit, his quickness is above average. He has that great burst to accelerate around the corner to close the deal fast on the pass rush.

Compares To: Thomas Davis-Carolina…Edmunds is bigger and heavier than Davis, but it is the uncanny instincts that both combine with sheer athleticism that separate them from their peers. Edmunds is an excellent athlete with valid speed and quickness for his projected NFL position – weak-side outside linebacker. He has outstanding lateral agility and range, doing a very good job of shortening the field by taking proper angles to the ball. He is much more effective when allowed to freelance and attack the ball, rather than operate in containment as a front wall defender. He shows urgency chasing down ball carriers along the corners and has an explosive first step to penetrate the backfield and close on the quarterback as a blitzer. With a lot of emphasis being put on the passing game in the NFL again, athletes with speed and field smarts are essential for use as second level defenders.