Entering the season, it was hard to envision exactly where rookie second round pick Mario Edwards Jr was going to fit into the Raiders' defense and therefore how much of an impact he would have early on. His impact and his role may have just been decided for him.
Wednesday morning, reports revealed veteran defensive end Justin Tuck will need surgery on a torn pectoral muscle and will be placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. And it's Mario Edwards who will be asked to step up and take over at DE.
Last week against the Broncos, Edward got his first start of the season. In that game, he played 50 of 58 snaps and tied for the team lead with 6 tackles (3 solo) and added a half sack. His 50 snaps were twice his average from the first four games, and his performance impressed his defensive coordinator.
"Well fortunately for us, he's a good football player," Ken Norton Jr said of Edwards. "No matter where you put him, on special teams, inside, outside, they're going to show up as good football players. He's been versatile in the way that we can play him inside and outside. It seems like everywhere we put him, he makes plays and he plays really hard. That's the common bond with him."
Technically, Edwards' start came at defensive tackle due to the absence of Justin Ellis who was out with an ankle injury. With the Raiders playing a combination of 4-3 and 3-4 alignments, Edwards was asked to shift from a DT in the 4-3 to DE in the 3-4. And when Justin Tuck left the game early in the fourth quarter, Edwards simply slid into that spot.
The very next play after Tuck left with the injury, Edwards got pressure on Manning along with Aldon Smith and the two shared credit for the sack.
"Me being versatile enough to go up and down the line is always good." Said Edwards. "It was comfortable being in there, it's just that things happen a little quicker so I had to react to them."
Draft analysts put Edwards' stock as a low second round talent. He also never showed much in the way of pass rush ability coming out of Florida State, topping out at 3.0 sacks last season. With the Raiders in need of a speed rusher to complement Khalil Mack, Edwards' selection was seen as a bit of a reach in the top of the second round.
Eventually the Raiders did get that speed rusher when they signed Aldon Smith just prior to the start of the season. His addition has also had the Raiders playing a lot more 3-4 alignments, which plays right into Edwards' strength as a good fit as a 3-4 defensive end.
There has never been a question about the kind of talent Edwards is and the potential he possesses. And as a second generation NFL player, he has the pedigree as well. It has been said that he can be as good as he wants to be. Questions about consistent effort also drove down his stock. Tuck was known for putting in the work necessary to be one of the NFL's elite edge defenders, giving Edwards some big shoes to fill.
Tuck himself raved this offseason about the work Edwards was putting in. The young rookie will now have his chance to show what he can do. At this point, the Raiders are looking pretty smart for drafting him. From here, it's all up to him. His time is now.