For three years at South Carolina, Bryan Edwards was the Robin to Deebo Samuel's Batman. While Edwards put up a highlight-reel catch every other game, Samuel was the Gamecocks' No. 1 receiver.
Edwards, whom the Raiders took in the third round with the 81st overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, is viewed as a big-body receiver with strong hands who excels in contested-catch situations. However, there were questions about Edwards' top-end speed and overall athleticism, which, along with a foot injury suffered before the NFL Scouting Combine in February, could have caused him to slide in the draft.
While many teams and scouts might view Edwards as a low-ceiling receiver at the NFL level, the Raiders reportedly had a first-round grade on him and are very high on the 6-foot-3 receiver. The era of wide-open NFL offenses calls for skill players to be versatile. Receivers no longer can just play the "X" and only run certain routes. In order to keep defenses off balance, it's important for receivers to wear many different hats and not just the one with which they're most comfortable.
Edwards showcased that ability during his sophomore season, when Samuel went down with an injury, and again during his senior season, once Samuel left for the NFL. Edwards showed his ability to thrive in Samuel's role in the offense, which saw him get the ball on screens, sweeps and other manufactured touches.
"Edwards ended up taking over a lot of the stuff that Deebo did last season," Ben Breiner, who covers South Carolina football for The State, said on the latest episode of Raiders Talk. "He got a lot of screens and sweeps, and he was the main target. He could do those pretty well at the college level, and a lot of what I'm going to be sort of interested in is, does the speed and the strength that he showed off in Columbia, how much does that translate when the athletes around him are bigger and stronger? Bryan is a really good route-runner, very good at kind of feeling the defense, and honestly might be even a little better than Deebo was at that."
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The ability to thrive in Samuel's old role is noteworthy as Edwards enters an NFL that's beginning to view receivers like Samuel -- smaller, stronger pass catchers who thrive at breaking tackles and creating explosive plays -- as a necessary commodity to compete at the highest level. To be able to fill that role at 6-foot-3 but with the speed to get to the edge makes Edwards a valuable offensive asset.
Here are a few clips of Bryan Edwards running fly sweeps vs. Albama— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) April 26, 2020
- Usually, smaller quicker guys get fly sweeps but Edwards has the speed to get to the edge
- Guys bounce off him when he lowers his shoulders
- Good contact balance and leg drive pic.twitter.com/kkj2ktPCT0
Bryan Edwards was featured quite often in the screen game and looked to have a good feel for what was going on around him, used blockers well and made some big plays. pic.twitter.com/DiybAACRvF— Glenn Naughton (@AceFan23) February 9, 2020
The Raiders didn't have anyone who could do that in 2019. After Antonio Brown went nuclear and Tyrell Williams started battling plantar fasciitis, quarterback Derek Carr was left with star tight end Darren Waller and rookie receiver Hunter Renfrow -- and not much else -- in the passing game.
Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have revamped the Raiders' offense during the offseason, adding Edwards, along with first-round pick Henry Ruggs and Kentucky do-it-all athlete Lynn Bowden.
When the Raiders called Edwards' name, I immediately believed he could be the steal of the draft. His career at South Carolina was littered with impressive catches that it's easy to imagine him making while wearing silver and black.
— James (@GamecockSplash) June 8, 2020
South Carolina WR Bryan Edwards might've had the best catch of 2019😳pic.twitter.com/h74OjqDcE7— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 21, 2020
[Physicality]— Dynasty Mark 🏈 (@Dynasty_Mark) April 13, 2020
One of my favorite things about Edwards' game is that he's always ready for contact, and exceptionally physical. Bryan Edwards is rarely vulnerable after he catches the ball, and often is the one delivering a blow after the catch. pic.twitter.com/ZBxCoKy15o
The big body, strong hands and contested-catch ability all make Edwards part of the Raiders' long-term future. But the versatility he showed at South Carolina no doubt intrigued the Raiders.
Gruden wants all of his receivers to learn every position in the offense. Sometimes, that might seem tedious, but it's necessary to create a complete passing attack. Edwards, while talented, appeared to fit into a select box. He was going to be a big slot receiver with the ability to eventually become the "X" if everything worked out. He would work mainly on slants and intermediate ins over the middle, as well as jump balls on the outside.
Edwards excels with the ball in his hands, forcing 56 broken tackles over his four years at South Carolina and 27 over the past two years. His strong hands also should make him a favorite of Carr. Last season, Edwards had a 90 percent on-target catch rate while working mostly with a freshman quarterback in Ryan Hilinski and dropping just three passes. That reliability should help Edwards come into Carr's good graces early in camp.
But if the versatility Edwards showed in Columbia can translate to the NFL level, the Raiders' arsenal will be that much more dangerous.
If Ruggs and Edwards can be interchangeable in their roles, both having the ability to stretch the field vertically and attack defenses horizontally, it will make the offensive attack that much harder to predict and will benefit Waller, Renfrow and Josh Jacobs by forcing the defense to account for every inch of turf on the field.
Edwards wasn't able to run at the combine, so we aren't sure what his top-end speed is or how it will translate to the NFL level. Samuel ran a 4.48 during his combine. If Edwards can be in the 4.5 range, that speed, coupled with his strength, will give the Raiders a weapon that can be used in a similar way the 49ers did Samuel during his rookie season.
The Raiders took the time to revamp their offense this offseason, giving Carr all the weapons necessary for him to have a career year.
Edwards' versatility, reliability, athleticism and strength should prove to be huge assets to Gruden and Carr as they look to inject some NOS into what was a mundane and lifeless attack in 2019.
Samuel-like receivers have become coveted assets in the modern NFL. Edwards showed he could be a Samuel-like receiver at South Carolina. If his athleticism measures up at the NFL level, the Raiders will have added a bigger version of the league's newest trend.