On Monday, the Steelers talked about the ways in which specialization has become more a part of college football recently, and late Thursday night they used their first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft on a player who is a product of that specialization. The belief was that the Steelers needed to come out of this draft having bettered themselves at inside linebacker and at safety, and based on his college resume, Terrell Edmunds could help them a little bit at both of those positions.
As expected, the theme of this draft's first round had to do with the frenzy with which the quarterbacks were pursued, and by the time the Baltimore Ravens concluded things by selecting Lamar Jackson 32nd overall, the 2018 draft produced the most quarterbacks picked in the first round since 1999, with five.
The Steelers didn't participate in any of that mania, but their interest in Edmunds and players like him can be traced directly to why so many quarterbacks were picked early this year and what that says about the way offenses are evolving in the NFL.
Baker Mayfield (to Cleveland), Sam Darnold (to the New York Jets), Josh Allen (to Buffalo), Josh Rosen (to Arizona), and Jackson (to Baltimore) were the quarterbacks responsible for the history-making element of the first round, but the Steelers made some news in their own right when they traded wide receiver Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders for a third-round pick, the 79th overall selection in this draft.
"As we've stated throughout the winter, we weren't interested in trading Martavis," said General Manager Kevin Colbert. "We weren't making calls in that regard. Teams were calling us. Really, when they'd call, they weren't offering anything that would interest us in trading a player of his caliber. But then when it got to the third round, we thought that was something that was very interesting to us, and we pulled the trigger on that deal. We wish Martavis nothing but the best. We're happy to have an extra pick (Friday). Now we've got three picks (Friday). Since we don't have that fourth-round pick, that actually makes up for that vacancy in the fourth. We're excited about what we'll be able to do (Friday).
When that deal was announced, sometime around 10 p.m., the assumption was the Steelers were going to use the draft capital acquired for Bryant to move up in the first round. Based on where the Steelers were picking in the round, and based on where the drafting process was at the time the trade was announced, it was a reasonable assumption because a fair cost for such a move would have been a third-round pick.
"When you get an extra pick, that's always an opportunity, but we said if we get the third-round pick (for Bryant), we'll do it," said Colbert. "But then at worst, we're going to have a No. 2 and two No. 3s like we did last year. I know there are plenty of good players still available, so having that (extra) third-round pick in our pocket is very valuable. When you have extra picks, sure, you can always look to trade up, but we're extremely happy to get a young man like Terrell Edmunds because he does fill that void of a nice young defender in the back end."
The Ravens had traded down from their original 16th overall pick in the first round to 22nd overall, but then the Ravens traded down again, this time to 25th overall. That first trade was with the Bills, who used the pick to select Tremaine Edmunds, Terrell's younger brother and a linebacker at Virginia Tech, and then the second trade was with the Titans, who used the pick to select Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans. With those two linebackers off the board, the Steelers interest turned to the defensive backs who remained available, and their interest specifically was in the older of the two Edmunds brothers.
"Terrell Edmunds is a very gifted, athletic, physical safety who has played free safety, who has played strong safety, who may rotate from one to the other within the same play," said Colbert. "He not only has the physical ability to do that, but what really impressed us was his mental ability to be able to move and make the adjustments and really be the quarterback on the back-end of a really good defense (at Virginia Tech)."
When the offseason program began for the Steelers on April 16, one of the observations veteran cornerback Joe Haden made about the playoff loss to Jacksonville was that miscommunication and poor discipline that led to missed assignments were culprits in the defense's implosion that day. The three significant moves made so far this offseason – the signing of unrestricted free agents Jon Bostic and Morgan Burnett, and the pick of Edmunds on the first round of the draft – were made with the idea of fixing those problems.
Another quality of Edmunds' that impressed the Steelers was his toughness. Edmunds injured his shoulder during the Hokies' training camp in preparation for the 2017 season, but he played the first 10 games of their season before having to have surgery done once the injury became unbearable. And just like T.J. Watt last year, Edmunds comes from an NFL family. His father, Ferrell Edmunds, was a tight end for the Miami Dolphins back when Colbert worked in that team's personnel department.
"Anything that you can imagine (Edmunds) doing, you saw him do on Virginia Tech's defensive tape within Coach Bud Foster's scheme," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "You saw him play free safety. You saw him play strong safety. You saw him play deep middle. You saw him play half-field. You saw him play sub-package linebacker in there alongside his brother. That versatility was exciting. We were just talking here the other day about specialization and things that you're able to do with sub-packages. You're not speculating in that evaluation (of Edmunds). You saw him do a number of things that will be on the menu for him. We got a sharp, young, versatile guy who's a very good communicator and who plays with physicality. Quite simply, he checked all the boxes for us."
And the cherry on top of the day for many within the Steelers organization was that Ryan Shazier walked about 20 yards along the stage at AT&T Stadium to announce the pick of Edmunds from the podium alongside Commissioner Roger Goodell. Shazier made the walk without crutches or a cane, and he was accompanied by his fiancée, Michelle.
"You saw Ryan Shazier take some very inspirational steps," said Colbert. "That's a huge lift, for not only him, but for us. To see where he's come from to where he is and knowing where he might be able to go, it's beyond inspirational. It's just exciting. It's really exciting for him."
"I share Kevin's admiration for the efforts that Ryan has put forth in his recovery," said Tomlin," and not only him, but also his loved ones, including his fiancée, Michelle. They've been an inspiration to us. I'm really proud of those two, and what they were able to do tonight in terms of representing us."