Keep doubting T.J. Edwards. He uses that.
A year ago, despite a decorated career at Wisconsin, Edwards wasn’t one of the 254 players taken in the 2019 draft. Instead, he signed with the Eagles and had to fight his way onto the roster.
A big knock on Edwards back then was his lack of athleticism and that criticism hasn’t gone away. Many still view Edwards as a limited player in the NFL. And, heck, the Eagles have shown they might go predominantly with Nate Gerry and Duke Riley in passing situations this year.
But Edwards, 24, is ready to prove he can play against the pass too.
“It’s something I’ve got my whole life, in terms of not being athletic or anything like that,” Edwards said during training camp, on a day when he skyed to pick off a Nate Sudfeld pass. “But I kind of tried to prove those things wrong in college. I thought I did a decent job and now it's kind of that whole progression over again where I gotta prove myself again, that I can cover in the pass.
“So I'm excited. I think this camp has helped me a lot just in terms of reading, different kind of patterns and those things like that, so I feel really good in the pass and the run. So, I'm excited to see kind of how things shake out.”
While Edwards didn’t work out at the 2019 combine (aside from bench press: 16 reps, 9th percentile), here were his test results from the Wisconsin pro day and the percentile those numbers would fall in among linebackers in recent years (h/t Mockdraftable):
40-yard dash: 4.77 (29th)
20-yard shuttle: 4.15 (82nd)
3-cone: 6.99 (65th)
Broad: 112” (21st)
Vertical: 34.0” (52nd)
So on an Eagles team that has prioritized athleticism from its linebackers, Edwards’ athletic profile stands out for all the wrong reasons.
But I’d argue that Edwards makes up for his lack of pure athleticism with instincts and football knowledge. We saw that at training camp this season. Edwards was always in the right spot, deflecting passes, timing blitzes and blowing up screens. That’s the strength of his game. To oversimplify: While a Davion Taylor might have the speed to recover, Edwards is already in the right spot.
But all 32 teams, including the Eagles, overlooked his instincts and his college career during last year’s draft.
“I mean, I'd be lying to you if that's something that I still don't think about every once in a while in terms of not getting my name called,” Edwards said. “It’s something that I think keeps me going. But at the end of the day, I'm very happy with how everything worked out and I wouldn't change that for the world. So I think, you know, definitely helps my hunger and keeps that chip on my shoulder at all times.”
Of course, things worked out for Edwards after the draft. The Eagles signed him as a UDFA and Edwards ended up playing in all 16 games as a rookie with four starts. He played just 11 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in 2019, but that number is expected to grow.
There are people who don’t think he can handle a bigger role. Edwards welcomes that viewpoint.