It seems like every team has at least that one player that fans love to pick on, insisting that he is not picking up his share of the slack and is holding the team back. For most of the past three seasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ whipping boy has primarily been safety Terrell Edmunds, but he somewhat quietly took a meaningful step forward during the 2020 season, in his third year since being selected in the first round.
After the team added Steven Nelson at cornerback in free agency in 2019 and then traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick at free safety later that year, it really solidified the secondary as a whole to the point where Edmunds seemed to stick out as the one who was contributing the least.
The fact that he was picked in the first round—and that even at the time it was seen as a mistake to draft him there—didn’t do him any favors. But while he is still an imperfect player, he really rounded out his game a lot over the past 12 months, and even managed to add some much-needed splash to his repertoire.
Even Pro Football Focus, who had been quite hard on him in the past, took notice. After previously naming him the biggest surprise of the 2020 season at the safety position in the NFL in an earlier article, they also named him the most improved player of the year for the Steelers overall. Ben Linsey writes:
Many considered the selection of Edmunds in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft to be a reach, and the fact that he could often be pointed out as the weak link — particularly in coverage — on an otherwise strong Pittsburgh defense didn’t help matters.
Not only did Edmunds deliver a career-high 71.2 PFF grade in 2020, but his play in coverage was the driving factor for his improvement. Edmunds improved his coverage grade from 58.3 in 2019 to 75.3 this past season while reducing his passer rating when targeted from 120.8 to 76.2. He doubled his combined pass breakups and interceptions (six in 2020 compared to three in 2019) as well. His continued development will be key if the Steelers hope to deliver another dominant defensive performance in 2021.
Truthfully, we should know by now at this point in our collective fandom that a player entering his third season is still not a finished product, and that there is plenty of room for further growth, as we have seen it time and time again.
Even to this day, Edmunds is just 24 years old, his birthday having passed a few weeks ago in late January. He is heading into just his fourth season. He should be expected to continue to get better. Will he become a Pro Bowler? Perhaps not, but you don’t need a Pro Bowler at every position—and if you did, you would quickly lose half of them.