There are hundreds of mock drafts every year, but mid-December is when we usually start seeing the first of Big Draft’s mocks. The first of these so far is ESPN’s Todd McShay, who posted his first 2018 NFL mock draft today (Insider required). In it, he has the Detroit Lions selecting a player we haven’t seen in the first round all that much this season, but more surprising than the player himself is how he imagines the Lions using their first round pick in the NFL.
What makes McShay’s choice and subsequent explanation odd is that Tremaine Edmunds is a linebacker the Virginia Tech. It isn’t uncommon for a team to move a 3-4 outside linebacker from that position to defensive end in the NFL, due to the similar job responsibilities, but the Hokies do not run a 3-4 base defense. VT runs a 4-2-5 defense, meaning they have four down linemen, two base linebackers, and five defensive backs as their base defensive front.
That would make Edmunds what we might refer to in the NFL as a “nickel linebacker,” one who will stay in on passing downs. While picking up someone like that isn’t something I’d be averse to, that isn’t the role that Todd McShay sees Edmunds performing if he became a Detroit Lion.
“Detroit has plenty of needs on defense but must be encouraged by the play of 2017 first-round LB Jarrad Davis. Regardless of whether the Lions re-sign pending free agent Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit needs more edge rushers. Edmunds has the versatility to cover and rush the passer, and he is a gifted athlete at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds. He’ll likely test well at the combine.”
Tremaine Edmunds is not a very popular selection in the first round. Our Mock Draft Tracker has over 260 mock drafts from May to today and Edmunds is present on only 17 of them, including McShay’s. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a first-round prospect, but if he is, he’s flying firmly under the radar. It’s also the first time we’ve seen Edmunds mocked to Detroit.
While he certainly has the size to be a pass rusher in Detroit’s system with Teryl Austin, and I concur with McShay’s note about the likelihood he tests well, Tremaine Edmunds is simply not a pass rusher. It’s difficult to discern exactly what McShay means by mentioning that the Lions need an edge rusher regardless of what happens with Ziggy Ansah, there are really only two options and neither are particularly promising. He’s either suggesting Edmunds move to defensive end in Detroit or he is suggesting that despite the glaring, obvious need for a pass rusher the Lions select a linebacker for a second year in a row.
2017: 101 Tackles, 5.5 Sacks, 14.0 TFLs, 2 Pass Deflections, 3 Forced Fumbles
2016: 94 Tackles, 4.5 Sacks, 16.5 TFLs, 1 Interception, 3 Pass Deflections, 1 Fumble Recovery
2015: 11 Tackles, 2.5 TFLs
To address the first suggestion, Tremaine Edmunds has only 10.0 career sacks in three seasons for Virginia Tech, with a high of 5.5 this year. He has a much healthier 33.0 TFLs, but as a pass rusher it’s noteworthy that almost none of Edmunds’ sacks came while rushing off the edge. Almost every one of them was when he was acting as a spy or a late blitzer and he tackled the quarterback scrambling out of the pocket. Those are great if you need a linebacker who can do it all, but less so if you need an edge rusher.
If McShay was suggesting the Lions pass over a pass rusher to select a linebacker, I don’t see why it would be Edmunds in that case. Much more promising pass rushers like Vita Vea and Maurice Hurst were still on the board and another versatile linebacker who probably fits Detroit’s needs better in Rashaan Evans was also still there.
I don’t mean to sound as if Tremaine Edmunds is a bad player, because I feel that is pretty far from the truth. The blitzing ability I mentioned before is a valuable tool for a linebacker, and that skill, as well as his natural athletic ability, would be a possible fix for Detroit’s struggles stopping mobile quarterbacks.
While he is capable in coverage, it isn’t what you would refer to as a huge strength. Edmunds would easily become a starting linebacker alongside Jarrad Davis and Tahir Whitehead (should Whitehead be re-signed), but without a significant upgrade to the pass rush we would likely see the same kinds of struggles we saw with Davis as a rookie.
I think Tremaine Edmunds has the potential to be an impact player in the NFL. His combination of size, instincts, and athletic ability show a player who should have an early starting role in the league. In Detroit, however, he’d be either a luxury pick at linebacker or a developmental pick as a pass rusher, neither of which provide enough of a boost to the team as a whole immediately.