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Do Steelers Have Another Jaylen Warren in Daijun Edwards?

Do the Pittsburgh Steelers have another Jaylen Warren in the making in undrafted rookie running back Daijun Edwards?

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Pittsburgh Steelers RB Daijun Edwards
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Daijun Edwards during OTAs on May 24, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed a highly productive but slightly undersized running back from a major conference school, who did not test as well as his on-field tape suggested that he should. That describes Daijun Edwards, an undrafted rookie running back out of Georgia that the Steelers signed in April. It also described Jaylen Warren coming out of Oklahoma State two years ago.

Warren came to the Steelers after breaking out at Oklahoma State in 2021, his one season at the major conference level after previously playing at a junior college and Utah State. Edwards was in a stacked backfield at Georgia, didn’t get significant playing time until his junior season, and even then, had to split carries his final two years.

Warren’s production in his one year at the Cowboys’ starter: 256 carries for 1,216 yards, 25 receptions for 225 yards. Edwards’ production in his two seasons as a co-starter for the Bulldogs: 304 carries for 1,640 yards, 34 receptions for 298 yards.

Now, Edwards will try to replicate the success that Warren had in forging that path to Pittsburgh. It’s not an easy one. The success rate of undrafted free agents, even for a team with as long of a history of success in grooming them as the Steelers, is not high. 

But the Steelers have had at least one undrafted running back on their roster for the last six seasons for good reason. Trey Edmunds was in Pittsburgh from 2018-22, and he set the tone for Warren when he arrived. Now Warren is doing the same for Edwards.

“I was in that same situation,” Warren said. “We’re gonna come out here and make mistakes. I made my mistakes when I first came. I told him how my first pass to me here, I dropped it in the end zone. [Edmunds] told me ‘don’t drop passes’ because he was an undrafted free agent, too. I took that to heart. You really can’t mess up. I’ve kinda shared what I know with him and what I’ve gone through.”

Edwards also walked into a locker room with many familiar faces. The Steelers have been loading up on Georgia Bulldogs recently, with former college teammates Justin Fields, Broderick Jones, George Pickens and Darnell Washington rolling out the welcome wagon.

“Yeah, especially Darnell and [Jones]. We came into college together. It helps,” he said. “Just having faith in those guys, especially Darnell. He’s like another offensive lineman. Just having that security that I know Darnell is going to make that block.”

In addition to the mentorship and friendship, the other thing that propelled Warren through his rookie year was a boulder-sized chip on his 5-foot-8 shoulders. Though Edwards is slightly bigger, at 5-foot-10, he seems to be similarly equipped.

“I mean, of course, there’s a fuel to the fire,” Edwards said. “Every day, I just come with a chip on my shoulder. Just trying to do what I can do.”

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Daijun Edwards

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Daijun Edwards during OTAs on May 28, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

31 • Daijun Edwards, Running Back, Georgia
5-foot-10, 201 pounds, 23 years old, rookie

Acquired: The Steelers signed Edwards as an undrafted free agent on April. 27.

Last Year: With Kenny McIntosh onto the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks, 2023 looked to be Daijun Edwards’ time to shine with the Georgia Bulldogs.

Edwards and McIntosh were in a time share in 2022, with McIntosh getting 150 carries, Edwards 140 carries, and both players averaging 5.5 yards per carry. McIntosh was selected in the seventh round of the 2023 NFL Draft, seemingly clearing the way for Edwards to have a big senior season.

But another player had something to say about that. McIntosh was 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, a big running back and much bigger than Edwards. Kendall Milton, another senior, was another big back waiting in the wings, and head coach Kirby Smart decided to split the role once again.

Edwards got the bigger share, rushing 164 times to Milton’s 121, despite playing in one fewer game. But Milton was the more productive back, averaging 6.5 yards per carry to Edwards’ 5.4, and scoring 14 touchdowns — one more than Edwards despite fewer opportunities.

One area that Edwards was the clear leader in was as a passing threat. He caught 20 balls out of the backfield for another 197 yards, his most productive season as a pass-catcher by far.

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Daijun Edwards Georgia

Daijun Edwards, Georgia Athletics

CollegeA consensus four-star prospect out of Colquitt County High School, Daijun Edwards made the nearly four-hour trek north to Athens, Georgia to commit to the Bulldogs.

A pair of solid games late in his freshman season put Edwards on the map as a future star. He rushed 14 times for 77 yards in his first extensive action against South Carolina on Nov. 28 and then broke out for 103 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries against Missouri on Dec. 12.

Despite that success, Edwards was called on only sparingly during Georgia’s National Championship season in 2021. Despite playing in all 15 games, he finished sixth on the team in carries behind Zamir White, James Cook, McIntosh, Milton and quarterback Stetson Bennett.

In 2022, he became a much bigger part of the offense. After just 14 carries in the first three weeks of the season, he earned 12 rushes against Kent State on Sept. 24 and put up 73 yards. The second 100-yard game of his career came a few weeks later against Florida on Oct. 29, rushing 12 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns.

Year School GP Carries Rush Yards Rush TDs Receptions Rec. Yards Rec. TDs
2020 Georgia 9 37 218 1 1 3 0
2021 Georgia 15 49 215 3 2 42 0
2022 Georgia 15 140 769 7 14 101 0
2023 Georgia 12 164 881 13 20 197 0

Salary cap and future: Daijun Edwards agreed to a three-year, $2.8 million contract with the Steelers in April. His cap hit in 2024 is set at $2.25 million with a $950,000 signing bonus.

Edwards is under contract through the end of the 2026 season, and will be a restricted free agent in 2027.

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