Former Cowboys CB Mario Edwards, Sr. (drafted by the Cowboys in 2000) had Mario Jr. when he was in high school and, thus far, Edwards the Younger has followed in his father's football footsteps, enrolling at Florida State, his dad's alma mater, in 2012. In Tallahassee, as a freshman, he served as a back-up before earning a pair of starts in the final two games of the season when Tank Carradine was injured (including the ACC Championship Game), recording 17 tackles (2.5 for loss) and collecting 1.5 sacks.
In 2013, he became a starter, finishing second on the team with 28 tackles (9.5 TFL), adding 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble - good enough for third-team All-ACC laurels, as he helped the Seminoles to an undefeated season and a national championship. The 2014 campaign saw Edwards start 13 games at a combination of positions, logging a team-high 11.0 tackles for loss among his 44 tackles, plus three sacks, five batted passes, and two forced fumbles, earning him First Team All-ACC honors.
Edwards flashes a physical game, using his hands to contain, but also struggles to shed. Plus, he lacks the burst to be a dynamic pass rush force. He is, as Mike Mayock would say, "scheme-diverse"; in his final season, he played defensive end, defensive tackle and outside linebacker. This is both a blessing and a curse; NFL teams aren't sure whether he's a 3-4 defensive end, a strongside end in a 4-3 scheme or a 4-3 defensive tackle. He has 'tweener quickness and, when conditioned, 'tweener weight. Speaking of weight, Edwards ballooned to 315 pounds in 2014 but lost weight towards the end of the season and played better in the 275-285 range.
And this speaks to another problem facing scouts: they must determine whether or not he wants it. Edwards never fulfilled the expectations set for him at Florida State and ended his career as a core defender rather than dominant force. Will he play with passion and effort from snap to snap? Uncertainty surrounding his level of accountability pushes his value down below his talent level.
Want to scout like a boss? Let's start by looking at his Edwards's measurables:
And here they are in the form of a spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com (note that they have him listed as, and thus compared him to, defensive tackle, o his size numbers will skew low and his quickness and speed numbers will skew high):
And over at Draft Breakdown, they have three of his games, only one of which - the in-state battle against Florida - is from 2014. From the previous season, check him out against another in-stater, Miami, as well as in the National Championship Game versus Auburn.
Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about Edwards the Younger:
Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 8th-ranked DE; 76th overall:
Pass Rush Skills: Is a powerful edge rusher who is capable of converting speed-to-power. Flashes ability to drive offensive tackles back into the quarterback. shows better than average closing burst for size and is capable of delivering a blow and stripping the ball when he gets home. Reads quarterback and gets hands up in passing windows. Makes it tough to lock on but is also a developing hand fighter that can improve his ability to counter. Has some pop in his hands. Will get OT off balance at times but frequently fails to take advantage. Dot fast enough to beat NFL OTs off the edge with speed rush, but does show adequate-to-good bend and torso flexibility (for his size) when turning the corner while engaged. Spent a lot of time working as an inside rusher on obvious passing downs in 2014. Lacks great initial burst but is disruptive at times and also shows excellent awareness to get long arms (33 1/4") up and disrupt quarterback's passing windows.
Versus the run: Is tough to move off the ball and sets a hard edge when teams run at him. Powerful upper body on tape and confirmed in his 32 bench press reps at Combine. Explosive power at the point of attack.Is capable of blowing up lead blockers and pulling interior offensive linemen. Flashes an ability to stack and shed in time to make the play but will need to improve disengage skills. Lets pads rise too often and can be neutralized initially when blockers get their hands inside. Has adequate range chasing from the backside and makes the occasional play in pursuit, even though he doesn't have the closing burst to chase down many backs from behind.
Versatility: The 3-4 DE (five technique) and 4-3 LDE positions are his best pro fits. Kicks inside to rush passer and excels in that role. Big, strong and quick enough to play DT. Has experience playing as a 3-4 OLB and can spot drop, but is not a traditional candidate because of his size and questioned ability to regularly hold up in space.
Instincts/Motor: Is a physical, tough player at times but effort is up and down. Seems to wear down too easily and conditioning must improve. When tired, he has a bad habit of letting pads rise and giving offensive linemen a big target. Flashes a mean streak but wish we saw more consistency. Has better effort when rushing the passer compared to when chasing the run.
Intangibles: His father is former Florida State and NFL corner Mario Edwards. Wears the same number that his father wore for the Seminoles. Lost redshirt status when Brandon Jenkins sustained a season-ending foot injury and was later thrust into the starting lineup after Tank Carradine tore his ACL late in 2012. Improved his eating habits at Florida State but nutrition and conditioning will need to be closely monitored. Some scouts have raised questions about his determination level and true passion for the game.
Derek Stephens (CBSSports.com) 8th-ranked DE; 69th overall:
Strengths: Utilizes long arms and strong hands to keep blockers out of his frame, and does a good job of maintaining vision, awareness and patience when engaged with taller opponents. When given space off the line, Edwards exhibits good acceleration that transitions nicely to power on contact, as he's routinely able to force tackles to retreat, and eat up any space to the quarterback's left. He's flexible and loose-hipped when asked to establish position underneath his opponent or change direction, and he has the balance to recover and stay on course when tossed or knocked aside by blockers. Good bloodlines. Father, Mario Edwards, Sr. was a standout cornerback at Florida State and spent five seasons in the NFL.
Weaknesses: Where Edwards will need to improve is in his snap count anticipation; he can appear heavy with limited range and he's frequently the last lineman off the ball, making it tough for him to have any impact rounding the edge. He's also easily stood up at times as he lets the pads rise early in the play and struggles to take ground as a result, and he could take better angles to the outside against the run. Excels with only one pass rush move -- upper-body power. Lacks creativity with hand use and can struggle to sequence effective rush moves together. Though still raw with substantial room to continue to get better, Edwards has the makeup of the ideal 3-4 end or 4-3 tackle who can disrupt the backfield in a number of ways, from multiple spots, and should draw a premium pick come draft day next year if he's able to continue developing at his current trajectory.
Compares to: Vinny Curry, Eagles -- Like the 6-3, 280-pound Curry, Edwards offers an intriguing blend of size, agility and instincts which the Seminoles used to feature him inside and out along the defensive line and even occasionally drop into coverage. This versatility could earn Edwards a top 50 selection and gives his NFL team quite a bit of flexibility.
Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 8th-ranked DT; 92nd overall:
Strengths: Scheme versatile. Can play base end or defensive tackle in a 4-3 (depending on weight) or as a 3-4 defensive end. Has thick bubble and legs. Comes off snap with decent power. Can brace and anchor at point of attack. Flashes upper-body strength to press and lock out tackles. Above-average closing burst as tackle. Strength to leverage and toss blockers when motivated.
Weaknesses: Ineffective as pass rusher. Played some stand-up defensive end in college and showed no explosiveness off snap. Play speed and fire go missing from pass rush. Hand usage is hit or miss and appears to lack power with hands. Inconsistent getting arm extension, limiting ability to control and dominate a snap. Too involved in hand fighting and plays through a straw, losing sight of ball carrier.
Sources Tell Us: "I think conditioning and desire are a big problem for him and they go hand in hand. He just looks content to stay blocked by lesser players, and it is so frustrating to watch because you know he has the talent to be so much better." -- AFC West scout
NFL Comparison: Jeoffrey Pagan
Dane Brugler (NFL Draft Guide) 8th-ranked DE:
Strengths: Stout body thickness throughout with a bulky lower body and frame built for the NFL...powerful upper body to jolt, using heavy, forceful hands to work through and toss bodies - uses mitts well to obstruct passing lanes (eight career pass break-ups)...physical punch and strong wrists to control and contain the edge and finish ballcarriers...athletic movement skills for his size and shows natural bend and initial quickness...violent and explosive striker in short spaces, rolling his hips and tackling with authority...flashes an aggressive mentality and mean-spirited attitude...nice job making stops while engaged, keeping his eye level up...versatile experience playing inside, outside and on his feet at Florida State over 26 starts...NFL bloodlines - father (Mario) was a Florida State cornerback and sixth round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, playing five seasons professionally and currently serving as an assistant coach for the Seminoles.
Weaknesses: Concerning weight fluctuation with bad weight on his frame and history of poor diet habits...late off the snap and needs to improve his reaction time and urgency - needs to show more of a plan...plays tight with the added weight, limiting his range...enjoys contact too much, not showing consistent hand use or desire once engaged...relies too much on his upper body strength and needs to focus on his footwork and knee bend...ineffective pass rush sequence and needs to show improved continuity and creativity in this area...undisciplined recognition skills and ball awareness, biting on fakes and misdirection and struggling with offensive moving parts...unreliable in space with inconsistent break down skills on the move...suspect conditioning and tends to wear down later in games - training habits and off-field desire are strong concerns...durability concerns after a Sept. 2014 concussion that knocked him out of the Clemson and NC State games - also missed two games in Sept. 2013 with a right hand injury that required a plate and screws...mediocre production with only 8.0 career sacks in 26 starts.
Although our panel rates him from 69th to 92nd, those grades all share the same round - the third - and, although Brugler doesn't rank the prospects, he does assign Edwards, Jr. a third round grade as well. So, I'll quite happily place him in the third round on my "little board," where the Cowboys hold the 91st pick.
That said, I'm not going to do a happy dance should he prove to be the pick there. I think there are much more dynamic DEs to be had earlier and more disruptive DTs to be had starting at just the spot where they might pick him. The Cowboys already have several "tweener" DEs - Jeremy Mincey and Ben Gardner jump to mind - so I'm not sure how Edwards helps raise the talent level or gives them an element they don't already have.
So, here's my short prayer to the football gods: "please, oh great arbitrary ones, let a 3-4 team grab him as a dynamic five-technique, leaving other, better fits, for Dallas to snatch up."
Next up: Michigan DE Frank Clark