Matt Waldman shares his NFL Draft scouting report on Las Vegas Raiders rookie Bryan Edwards from his 2020 Rookie Scouting Portfolio publication.
Bryan Edwards is killing it at Raiders’ camp. His new quarterback Derek Carr has compared the ease of working with Edwards to the ease he had working with his former Fresno State teammate, Davante Adams.
Pre-draft, I had Edwards firmly in my second tier of receivers. This may sound low to those of you in love with the idea of what Edwards could be based on his summer of love in Las Vegas, but a closer look at my tiers reveals that RSP readers have been seriously considering Edwards in dynasty drafts as a significant bargain.
The 2020 RSP’s second tier of receivers had Depth of Talent Scores high enough to easily have been the first tier of options in most draft classes. Edwards’ score is the grade of an immediate starter.
As you read below, you’ll understand why Edwards earned the reputation of a boom-bust prospect, and why I believe he’s worth a team’s investment and likely a bargain.
Bryan Edwards, South Carolina (6-2, 212)
Depth of Talent Score: 85.45 = Starter: Starting immediately with a large role and learning on the go.
Whether it was Twitter or a news article from a local South Carolina publication about Bryan Edwards, inconsistent hands have been one of the common themes, despite the fact that Edwards is the Gamecocks’ all-time leader in receiving yards.
Edward’s hands underscore the high ceiling and low floor that’s his prospect profile for the NFL—more on
this in a moment.
Edwards is one of the several big, strong, quick, and fast receivers capable of spectacular plays in this draft class. He didn’t run at the NFL Combine but it would be shocking if this split end and punt return specialist ran slower than a 4.55-second 40-Yard Dash and didn’t have starter-tier acceleration.
Separation is one of the easier things for Edwards as a receiver. He can anticipate the jam, lean away from the shot and counter with a swat as he works inside or outside to open grass. He’s quick enough to earn a separation solely with a one-step hesitation move and either a chop, swipe, or arm-over. Edwards’ swipe is violent and well-placed. If an opponent begins catching onto the single hesitation move,
Edwards will incorporate double-hesitation moves, inside-route footwork patterns, shake release, and three-step patterns into the mix. He also adds violent head and shoulder fakes into his release patterns—especially the three-step release footwork.
Although the swipe is an effective move for Edwards, he leans heavily on a hard chop and uses it multiple
times during routes. Once he earns space, Edwards will go for the stack to control the route to the end of
the play. And, as a ball carrier, he has the speed and stamina to maintain his pacing as he weaves through
traffic for long gains.
Edwards can run routes with explosive speed. He’s sudden with his breaks on spot routes, he earns the necessary hip sink and knee bend on hard breaks, and his speed breaks have tight turns. He’ll execute slants with a quick and violent stab to the outside to set up the break inside.
He’s skilled at taking the back of the cornerback to get into the opponent’s blind spot just before he executes his breaks. He’ll also use his frame to lean into tight coverage and then snap off the break to open space, forcing his opponent to overrun the break.
Edwards routinely breaks back to the football or executes flat breaks on patterns working to the sideline. When running routes against zone defenses, Edwards settles into the open area. Because of his skill after the catch, South Carolina liked using Edwards on crossing routes, swing passes, and screens to get him into space. At the same time, Edwards’ skill for airborne adjustments also earned him fades, go routes, and post patterns. And his quick and physical route running lends itself well to curls, slants, and stop routes.
Edwards isn’t a master technician with routes but the fundamentals are strong and he’ll get sharper, quicker, and savvier with each facet of route running that he already performs with proficiency. He’s already skilled with varying the pacing of his releases and stems. He toe-taps and drags his feet inside the boundary well.
As a pass-catcher, Edwards has moments of brilliance couched between unforced errors. Or, is it that Edwards has moments of unforced errors couched between brilliance? That’s the question because the reputation that precedes Edwards is that
he drops the ball a lot.
He went through a period of drops in 2018 and I charted four drops from seven games. Two were drops after contact where Edwards had to attack passes that lacked pinpoint accuracy, one was a drop without imminent contact at the catch point but the pass also lacked general accuracy, and the fourth drop was a pinpoint pass without any defender in the area.
At the same time, Edwards caught 15 passes where he had to take contact to win the ball and made 3 difficult receptions. The RSP defines difficult receptions as catches that if not made would have been graded as a missed target rather than dropped.
When a receiver drops the ball at a rate that’s essentially every other game, that’s a high rate. However, if a receiver is earning a lot of targets and many of them involve contact and he’s catching more than four times as many than he drops, his
reputation for dropping the ball is worth further investigation before writing him off.
After all, Julian Edelman led the NFL with 13 dropped passes in 16 games last year. Deebo Samuel had 9 in 15 games and Travis Kelce dropped a pass every other game as well. Keenan Allen and Mike Evans even had seven drops last year. Of course, the total drops and ratio of catches to drops can be helpful information but we should also take note of the contextual aspects of these drops: Did they occur in clutch moments?
In 2018, Edwards dropped a touchdown pass in the third quarter against Florida when they had a 21-14 lead. The defender knocked the high-point away from Edwards’ grip in the end zone—a contested play. South Carolina kicked a field goal to extend the lead to 24-14, but Florida fought back and won the game by the four points that Edwards’ drop cost South Carolina.
Edwards also dropped a pass that he tracked over his shoulder against Kentucky while down 24-10 that would have put his offense into scoring range. These were all plays that mattered but not to the extent that the entire game came down to these moments.
The one game where he had a consequential drop of this magnitude came in November in a 20-15 loss to Appalachian State when Edwards leaped for a fade route on 1st and 15 with less than a minute remaining in the game inside the Appalachian State 5-yard line and he let the ball go through his hands. While it’s possible that Edwards has a flaw as a pass-catcher that is inherent to his play and will always make him an inconsistent receiver, I’m not sold on that conclusion. Edwards snatches the ball away from his frame easily, takes hits to his back, makes contested plays with one hand, and excels with late adjustments on back-shoulder plays.
He tracks the ball well over his shoulder and he posts up and makes plays with tight and physical coverage at his back. His one-handed catches against Ole Miss where he reached around tight coverage on a go route for a 75-yard score and his back-shoulder, one-handed stab a la Odell Beckham, Jr. but catching the fat of the football against Tennessee are excellent plays that the typical butter-fingered-plagued receiver never makes.
Most of Edwards’ drops come when he doesn’t use the most efficient framing of the ball. He’ll let the ball into his frame on chest-level targets rather than attack it with the overhand framing that not only allows him to make the play away from his body but also transition faster downhill after the catch.
At this point, Edwards’ hands aren’t starter-tier mitts, but he has moments of elite hands and the moments
that can be sorted into three categories:
- Technical lapses: Proper hand framing is something Edwards can correct.
- Concentration lapses: These are drops that a team can live with if they’re the only kind and his catches far outweigh his drops.
- Challenging targets: These are targets that I count as drops but they require effort from the player to extend to the limits of his catch radius and often while working against tight, physical coverage.
If Edwards eliminates the first and third issues from his errors, we won’t be talking about his drop rate as a barrier to his growth in the NFL.
When Edwards catches the ball, which is a lot, he has the quickness to transition downhill fast and find open creases. He can bounce runs outside defenders with enough speed to reach the sideline and turn the corner on them.
He’ll push through wraps of linebackers and he can work through tackle attempts from defensive backs in succession. He has the pad level, leg drive, and balance to turn negative situations into positive plays. He’s a pile pusher when defensive backs and a linebacker rally to the ball and he drags opponents wrapped around him for gains of 3-5 yards.
His stiff-arm can swipe aside defensive backs and nickel linebackers. When faced with direct contact, Edwards can also drop the pads and win collisions with smaller linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks.
He spins off contact well enough to reach the open field afterward. Edwards uses the correct arm away from the most dangerous man in pursuit and he’ll switch the ball to the appropriate arm. When it’s time to finish, he’ll lead with the shoulder that doesn’t have the ball under it. Edwards loses high-and-tight security in the open field. The ball hangs too low and loose.
Edwards transitions fast from route runner to blocker, uses his hands well enough to work into the chest of his opponent, and he can punch. When doing his best work, Edwards closes the gap between him and his opponent, getting chest-to-chest, and latching on to the defender long enough for the ball carrier to benefit.
Edwards handles linebackers when he can shield them from a play, taking contact without losing position. However, he must develop a consistent punch. He slides inside and cuts off safeties with good footwork and square position, showing effective
I hate to call Edwards a boom-bust prospect, but his record of drops tells the tale. If he can correct this issue, or at least limit it to concentration drops, he could be as good as any receiver in this class. If he doesn’t, his tenure as a starter will be brief and there’s a good chance the drops could get into his head and diminish his confidence.
He’s a physical, athletic, and acrobatic player with a lot of promising technical skills and he’ll play through pain and some injury. A team will take a chance on him no later than the third round and if he disproves the drops reputation, he’ll be the best value of the receivers with the marquee reputations in this draft.
Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: Edwards has a good chance of falling to the second or third round in dynasty drafts. If he does, he’s worth the risk. If he remains a first-rounder due to his draft status, he’s not for the conservative fantasy player. If you like playing the odds and have multiple first- and second-round picks, using one of these picks on Edwards isn’t a bad decision.
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