The Pittsburgh Steelers had amazing success with their early 2017 draft selections in year two last season. Three of their four selections in the first three rounds of the draft not only emerged as starters, but also made the Pro Bowl, either outright or as alternates.
The team would surely settle for even moderate improvement in 2018 from last year’s top picks. Only one of their top three picks is guaranteed a starting job, with second-round wide receiver James Washington currently projected to be behind Donte Moncrief and Chukwuma Okorafor battling the favorite, Matt Feiler, for the right tackle job.
But first-round pick Terrell Edmunds already started the first game of his career, and 14 more after that. He is the strong safety, and there’s virtually no chance, barring unforeseen circumstances, that anything occurs between now and the start of the regular season that would jeopardize that. So getting a big jump from him would be crucial to the defense, something that defensive coordinator Keith Butler touched on Monday on Steeler Nation Radio.
“It’d mean a lot, especially at the safety position and what we ask our safeties to do”, to get see Edmunds take a big step forward this year, Butler said. “Nowadays, they’ve got to play the back end, they’ve got to come up and play like linebackers at times, too, because of what people are doing offensively”.
Of his nearly 1000 defensive snaps last season, Edmunds spent quite a bit of time lining up all over the place. He spent the largest chunk of that time playing deep, but also had nearly as much time lined up in the box. He saw over 200 snaps in the slot or out wide as well.
“Everybody’s going to three wide receivers probably 80 percent of the time, at least that’s what we saw last year”, Butler said. “So we’ve got to have guys like him come in and be able to play different roles for us, not just safety. Maybe he’ll come down in the box and play sometimes, too”.
He has already done that, but much of that movement is a response to offensive formations and audibles. Back at the start of training camp, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, who was in attendance in Latrobe, wrote in a Tweet that the Steelers “want to move him around” similar to fellow first-round safety Derwin James, and that “the more you see that, the more progress he’s making”.
Of course, the Steelers have a great deal of familiarity with using a mobile safety in Troy Polamalu. They haven’t had anybody who could come particularly close to replicating the future Hall of Famer’s versatility in the four seasons since he retired, but Edmunds is the best candidate in the role yet to give it a try. And mentioning Polamalu also gives me a chance to remind you that he wasn’t very good as a rookie, so be patient with Edmunds.