Up today: T.J. Edwards
How acquired: Undrafted rookie 2019
Entering: Year 2
The Eagles might have gotten a real steal after the 2019 draft ended. They signed T.J. Edwards from Wisconsin and the rookie immediately impressed the Eagles’ coaching staff and slowly earned more of a role on defense as the year progressed.
Now, as he enters his second NFL season, Edwards will have the kind of opportunity that primes him for a breakout season.
Edwards has already been chosen as a breakout candidate by NFL.com and ProFootballFocus and it’s easy to see why. Despite playing just 115 defensive snaps last season, the Eagles are going to rely on Edwards heavily in 2020. This offseason, they let Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill walk as free agents.
Along with Edwards, the Eagles’ top linebackers before the draft were Nathan Gerry, Duke Riley, Jatavis Brown and Alex Singleton. In the draft, the Eagles added Davion Taylor in the third round and Shaun Bradley in the fifth.
Normally, a third-round linebacker would be expected to play a bunch as a rookie but Taylor is more of a long-term project with huge upside after not playing high school football. So that seemingly opens a door for Edwards to be a starter and major contributor in 2020.
The thing the coaching staff really likes about Edwards is his consistency. He’s an assignment-sound linebacker who doesn’t go big-play hunting. While everyone wants to make big plays, a linebacker who is preoccupied with them can be a problem. Edwards has been a coach’s dream.
"All that kid has done when we put him in the game is make the plays that have come to him,” Jim Schwartz said during last season. “He has been physical, he has been a sure tackler, and he has been assignment sound. Those are all three good things to be said about a linebacker."
As an undrafted rookie in 2019, Edwards played in all 16 games, but he didn’t get a single defensive snap during the first quarter of the season. But slowly, he earned a role on defense that expanded as his teammates went down with injury. He performed well too, averaging a tackle every 5.2 snaps.
And Edwards was a major special teams contributor all year too; he was second on the team with 334 special teams snaps in 2019 and led the Eagles in special teams tackles with 14. That’s the most special teams tackles for an Eagles rookie since 2009.
Edwards is an easy guy to root for too. He was the focus of my annual “Surviving Camp” series last summer. I followed his journey through training camp as he tried to make the team. Toward the end of that journey, when it was time to start worrying about final cuts, I was impressed by his focus with the last preseason game coming up.
“My mindset is on this game,” Edwards said. “After that, knowing that I did all I could is something I want to be sure of. I want to make sure I’m always doing everything I can to make this team.”
Going into Year 2, if he keeps that same hunger, he has a chance to not just make the team but have a big season.
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