As a prospect, Mario Edwards Jr. did not gain a lot of respect mostly because he gained too much weight in college. At Florida St, he ballooned up to 310 pounds. He was out of shape and lacked explosiveness for an end. He showed up to the combine at 272 lbs in the best shape of his life but scouts questioned whether he could continue to eat clean and take care of his body.
Many draft 'experts' criticized Reggie Mckenzie for picking him in round 2. Some of the criticisms were warranted because his college film quite frankly was not good. However, Mckenzie saw the upside in Edwards and took a chance on him and it paid off handsomely (editor's note: having Edwards' former position coach Sal Sunseri on staff likely helped with his opinion).
After a disastrous first preseason game in which Pro Football Focus ranked him as the Raiders' worst defender, he put a couple of solid games together, but he really began flashing his blue-chip potential in week 10 against the Vikings and notched his first sack. In addition to the versatility to play multiple positions, Edwards showed the strength to be a two-gap run stuffer and the athletic ability to be an extremely effective interior pass rusher, but what makes him most fun to watch is his bully mentality. His desire to come off the ball and embarrass the man in front him in front of him every play combined with this physical attributes makes me believe that he could be a blue-chip player in the league.
The Raiders play a base 3-4 and their interior linemen play a two-gapping technique which means that they are in charge of two gaps rather than just shoot one gap like most other other schemes. This allows the defense to account for more gaps with less defenders. This technique requires a strong base and the upper body strength to lock out blockers and Edwards doesn’t have particularly long arms but he packs quite the punch.
In this clip Edwards is lined up a 5-technique (outside shade of the LT), he fires off into the chest of blocker, locks out his arms to control him, and easily throws him out of the way. What is more impressive is that he is able to take down Adrian Peterson in some space. It seems like a small crease but Peterson has broken out of much smaller creases than that.
Edwards literally played in every position on the defensive line and in every front. Although Edwards played a lot of snaps as a 3-4 outside backer after Aldon’s suspension, he is most dominant as an interior defensive linemen in 3-4 fronts. He has effective quickness and suddenness but it is his behemoth strength and leverage that allows him to play anywhere on the line. He even lined up a Nose tackle before. To put that in perspective, Vince Wilfork plays Nose Tackle. Wilfork outweighs Edwards by 60 lbs.
He won’t be lining up at Nose Tackle but this play highlights Edwards' exceptional leverage. He flies off the ball and gets underneath the center’s pads as soon as the ball is snapped. Although he didn’t get the sack, he drove the center five yards into the backfield and puts him on his rear end.
Interior Pass Rush
Although Edwards got a lot on the EDGE, he is most effective playing in a 5-technique or 3-technique as an interior linemen in a 3-4. When he is in a 3-technique, he is too athletic for guards to pass block him and in a 5-tech, he has a two-way go.
A two-way go means that Edwards has the freedom to rush hard outside or inside. He isn’t afraid to give up the outside gap because although the nose tackle, Dan Williams, makes a great play chasing down the quarterback, Aldon Smith is also out in the flats waiting for the quarterback. The right tackle that Edwards is lined up can’t just take a hard outside kick step because he has to account for both the inside and outside and Edwards takes advantage of that with some sudden juke steps and highly effective hand fighting that frees him up to pressure the quarterback.
Ask any defensive coach in league what the number one trait they want in their players and the answer will be more often that not physicality. Make no mistake about it Edwards Jr. is a physical and mean defender.
On this play, Edward single-handedly destroys a counter play ran at him. He is lined up on the left edge. First, he closes down the gap because 85 down blocks then he knocks 87 right into a pulling tackle, then he takes on the second puller (46) by popping him with his shoulder, and finally makes the tackle on the running back.
I was one of the people that was wary of picking Edwards in the second round. If he’s healthy and can continue to stay motivated to keep his weight down, the sky's the limit for Edwards. The Raiders look to be a much improved defense with all of the offseason additions they made, but with Edwards in the lineup, this defensive front could truly be a force to reckoned with.
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