The player that fans wished to see a big leap from in the 2020 season was undoubtedly Terrell Edmunds. Largely considered a reach when he was picked 28th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, Edmunds has kicked off his NFL career with a rocky start. Despite racking up swaths of tackles, including second-most on the Steelers in 2019, he has lacked the ability to create splash plays. Through two seasons, Edmunds had only one interception and one fumble recovery. In 2020, Edmunds still has not forced any turnovers, but he has played at a higher level than ever before. Where has he taken the leap and what does this mean for Edmunds in the future?
Terrell Edmunds Starting Off Strong
The most important part of Edmunds’ leap has been his coverage against tight ends. So far on the season, Edmunds has faced Evan Engram, Noah Fant, Jordan Akins, and Zach Ertz. When all is said and done, that is a formidable slate that Edmunds had to go through. It would stand to say that he has been impressive as a result. SteelersNow charted Edmunds’ stats when in man coverage against tight ends, and it was very promising:
Week 1 vs Evan Engram: 2 targets, 0 receptions, 0 yards
Week 2 vs Noah Fant: 0 receptions, 0 yards
Week 3 vs Jordan Akins: 0 receptions, 0 yards
Week 5 Vs Zach Ertz: 1 Target, 1 reception, 7 yards
Tight ends are just getting clamped by Edmunds, but teams are not even daring to target him. That is the high level of coverage that Edmunds has brought to the table in that role. The Steelers’ defense has a reliable player that can go toe-to-toe with tight ends and shut them out in man-to-man coverage. Zone coverage is another thing altogether, and in Week 2 against the Broncos, Edmunds blew some coverage assignments. In the past two weeks, however, Edmunds has cleaned that up quite nicely.
Part of why Edmunds can function so well against tight ends is that his physical skillset is perfect for them. Against receivers, they are smooth and quick. Edmunds has some noticeable tightness in his hips and it makes it tough for him to change direction, but tight ends are simply not quick enough in and out of their breaks to juke Edmunds out. Add in the fact that Edmunds has improved his eye discipline and it makes sense that he has been great covering tight ends. Against Fant here, Edmunds does a great job of staying square and plating his eyes through Fant’s hips. Once Fant declares a direction, Edmunds mirrors that and closes the gap. That is solid coverage by Edmunds.
Even more important is that tight ends are getting faster by the day. Edmunds has length, size, physicality, and speed to keep up with these speed demons up the seam and field. Fant ran a 4.49 at the combine and on this play, Edmunds does an excellent job mirroring Fant’s movements and staying right in stride with him. If the ball does come, Edmunds would be in an excellent spot to bat it away given there is no separation here at all for Fant on the fade route. Yet again, this is the eye discipline of Edmunds showing up.
The Steelers disguise the slot blitz here as Edmunds acts as the cap defender once Hilton heads off to blitz. The basics of the safety position are shown off here. Edmunds slowly creeps down so that Greg Ward does not have an overwhelming cushion him in a short-yardage situation. That pre-snap alignment puts Edmunds in the perfect position to stay square, read Ward’s hips, and mirror his movements. Once Ward declares the in-break on the route, Edmunds drives on the catch point. One of the things he did not do well enough last year was drive on the football and the catch point, but this is a great example of his improvement there. As a result, Edmunds forces an incomplete pass on the hot route.
The best part of Edmunds’ game has always been his ability to make key run fits in the box. Regardless of his improvements in coverage, Edmunds’ best spot is in the box and working downhill to make these run stops. Against the Eagles, this is the best run fit of the day for him. The interior offensive line does a fantastic job of clearing out the A-Gap and it gives Sanders a sizeable hole if Edmunds does not scrape over the top and make that fit. Edmunds, however, reads the flow of the blocking scheme, makes that fit, and as such, the tackle. That is a great individual play and really solid instincts.
Going forward, Edmunds needs to continue to improve in coverage. His role of shutting down tight ends in man coverage is one that will be valuable to the Steelers given the quality tight ends they will face down the stretch of the season. Zone coverage is still something that is coming his way. However, Edmunds has played well early in the season and most certainly has played a step up from his 2019 tape.