1. Tremaine Edmunds lb VPI Buf
Prior seasons of doing this, I always had a pretty darn good idea of who I was going to pick in the first round. I drafted early. I knew my needs. I knew who I liked more than the GM's ahead of me. So I could say "Carson Wentz - No Matter What" with a firm belief I would get him. I studied him a lot. I studied Goff enough, but did not spend huge amounts of time on him. I spent more of my time on the mid-round and late-round and UDFA-territory athletes.
This year, I picked 15th, and had no idea who I would be likely to get. I watched a half dozen non-qb's enough to tell myself, "They are scheduled to go ahead of me and they deserve that rating and I am going to watch them enough to properly react if they fall." Edmunds was in this category. I watched LVE and Rashaan Evans more, one if I stayed where I was and the other if I traded down. I watched the receivers, and liked quite a few but not enough to select them at 15. So I guessed I might go with LVE if I stayed at 15 but was not excited about it. Frankly, I expected in the end to go BPA at 15 and target Nwosu in round 2 for my linebacking need, which was serious.
Anyway, I watched more of Edmunds after I picked him than before. As I watched and as I analyzed his situation in Buffalo, I got more and more excited about him. My opinions did not change, but they were reinforced and I could not have known he would go to Buffalo before the draft.
Big linebacker. Fast linebacker. Limitless range. Strong linebacker. Loves to hit, but a form tackler. Smart linebacker. Good motor. Stands up to, controls, and disengages from blocks. Young linebacker but mature for his age. Controls the huddle. Played in a sophisticated 46 defense at VPI and called signals. Fearless. Hard worker and great preparation. Plus pass defender, and I think could play safety at 250#. (Let that sink in.)
Size: 6-4.5 250# with outstanding arm length (34.5") and wingspan (83"). Can use this radius to affect passes and make tackles even when he is not in perfect position. Has the frame to get bigger, and I expect him at about 265# by the end of his first contract. Could grow and be a defensive lineman, but there's no point and it won't happen. Scouts have difficulty coming up with good size/speed comparisons. He's pretty unique. I go back to Ted Hendricks, who was taller but he was skinny. They both played with great leverage.
Speed: 4.54 combine. Plays fast on the field, with decisive movement. Does not stay still, and that makes it a bit hard for linemen to block him on the second level. When he does decide to go, he accelerates quickly and jets to where he is going. Similar to Roquan that way, but TE is much much bigger. Not called upon to bend on pass rush much, as he takes inside routes in his scheme, but I saw him bend once or twice. That's something to consider if he should move outside, along with him not doing the SS and 3C in testing. However, he moves on the field well enough that I would not worry. Perhaps his agent told him not to do them, as his height might give him a defensive lineman's result compared to shorter more compact linebackers. I don't know, and he's plenty nimble enough for Mike just on film grading alone. He was plenty fluid at the combine in drills.
He really does have sideline-to-sideline range, and the motor to keep running even when plays are obviously away from him. Makes the tackles on the jet and fly sweeps, even though they usually go to safeties and slots if you don't have a Tremaine Edmunds. Great burst for any size, much less 250#. He backpedals easily in coverage, and he breaks quickly on the ball. He can play the slot, and can run downfield with a tailback or even a wide receiver a team hides in the backfield.
Strength: Tests average (19 reps) on the bench, but plays with good strength. Sheds easily. Does not let go when he tackles. Uses his hands like a defensive lineman when he enters the trenches. When a lineman a little late to the spot tries to hold him, he easily shrugs off their arms without spinning around or being re-directed. (This may cost him from getting holding calls, but it is better to get to your spot on time than to flop for a call.) Uses his size, speed, strength, and ferocity in concert with each other and thus he has great balance and you do not find him on the turf much.
Form tackler (with one repeating flaw). Does not catch runners. He gets them. He wants to tear their heads off and eat their hearts but he stays disciplined. He is strong enough to be tempted to wave an arm out and drop small runners, but has too much pride in his technique to rely on that. What he does do imperfectly is that he does not always get directly in front of his target. For whatever reason, he'll be a foot to the side of his target, who he wraps up and gets dragged an extra yard sometimes. (Any decent pro coach will eliminate this in a young player of TE's intellect.) He gets a lot of assists, which is not always a positive, but there are two types of assists. There are the assists you get because you cannot bring someone down by yourself, and the assists you get because you add yourself to the pile. You worry about the former but not the latter. You also ask if he is padding his stats or if he is just making sure the runner goes and stays down. I think he does the latter, which is a VPI thing and not to concern anyone. It also shows he likes to hit and get his nose into the action, which is a plus for any defender and particularly a linebacker.
Smart. He's had 33 TFL in two years starting and one year of mop-up. (Roquan has 20 and LVE has 13 in roughly as many snaps.) You do that by recognizing plays based on film study. He calls signals for the VPI defense, which is challenging. You can see him correcting other players based on pre-snap reads. Gets genuine respect from peers, and they listen to him, even when they are older than he is. Polished speaker, not prone to uhms and uhs and likes.
Keeps moving until after the whistle. You'll see him near the ball whenever the dust settles. Gets in to finish tackles even when it is obvious he does not need to, but he always makes the effort.
What separates him clearly from Roquan and LVE, IMHO, is in his ability to play off blockers in traffic. If you get hands on the other two, you can neutralize them. With TE, the only one that takes him out of the play is TE. He keeps his blocker at arm's length, and sheds when he is ready. Blockers have a hard time getting square contact on him because he is always moving. In oversimplified terms, he is too big for small blockers and too fast for big blockers. He could play defensive line without looking out of place.
Tough player. He never shies away from contact, and genuinely enjoys it. Will get in the face of opponents. Shove him and he will definitely shove back. Shove a teammate, and he joins the posse. The only time I have seen him visibly frustrated by a play is when he is drawing a bead on a running back in the flats who drops the pass instead of catching it and allowing TE a big hit.
Very good skill set for pass defense, and good results on the field. Very aware. Draws comparisons to Urlacher and Kuechly. I compare him to Myles Jack, but better. Far ahead of every other linebacker in this class, and most classes.
Dad was an NFL player. Brother is an NFL player. Other brother drafted in first round with him. It is no surprise he carries himself like a pro already and prepares like a pro. Huge leg up.
Now, for the weaknesses.
I mentioned how he does not always get his head across the front of a runner when he tackles. Fixable. Particularly when item #2 is fixed.
He starts plays too much on his toes and taking a step forward before he knows what is going on. That looks great when he recognizes quickly and needs to move forward, but causes him to get sucked too far in too quickly in other situations. It may be how he was coached, but not completely. I think it has more to do with him relying on his gifts and wanting to splash, which sometimes happened. You gotta read the mesh point before you commit, and he commits too often before the mesh. I expect his pro coach to refine that, and I am far less worried than a lot of posters on this board about it. (It is real... just fixable.)
Also, in college they try to fool you with college stuff, and in the pros they try to fool you with pro stuff. He falls for typical college fakes and trickery but does not fall for the more sophisticated stuff. So I think he will be a better pro than collegian.
There's also the thing about busted coverages and busted assignments, and I am again far less worried about them than many on this board. Real issue, but understandable to me and will naturally repair with experience. The VPI defense is a variant of Buddy Ryan's old 46 defense. You know, 1985 Bears and Mike Singletary at mike. It is complex and it is a challenge to master and play. TE was running that defense for VPI and making the calls. He did a good job. But sometimes during the play he had some lapses in full understanding. There was a play I'm sure you saw if you watched TE lowlights, where he gave up on a RB who was staying in for pass pro and came off of him and returned to his alternate assignment in the middle. The RB then broke into a pattern and caught the pass for a big play. TE had no chance of getting back into coverage once he handed him off... to nobody. It wasn't that TE was an idiot or had no knowledge of his defense; it was that he knew 90% of what had to happen but missed the correct adjustment for this variant. From what I could tell, TE learned that lesson and it did not happen again after that play. And so on.
I use the analogy that Roquan and LVE were A students in advanced algebra, while the younger TE was a B+ student in calculus. Roquan and LVE played in Big Boy defenses, but TE played in a mad scientist defense. You can watch the results of that defense improve as TE matured in it. As the MLB, he (and DT Tim Settle) were the lynchpins of the defense, and the MLB role is the more cerebral of the two. So Roquan and LVE had things funneled to them in player-friendlier defenses, while TE was thrown in and learned how to swim.
Excuse-making? The future will see, but I believe it is legit and will help prepare TE for Buffalo.
We don't know how he would play on the edge (and still won't.) Can he rush the passer from the edge? We have not seen it. We have seen his burst, but we do not know if he can reliably bend, or beat skilled left tackles, as he typically embarrasses inside linemen in the scheme they play.
Young player with unique size/speed. Does not stay blocked. You may say he is raw, but he is very advanced in the things that most rookies struggle with, like pass defense. His weaknesses are correctable, and may have been gone by draft day if he stayed in school one more year. Loves to play. Has the flexibility to start at six or seven different positions at the pro level. First game starter. Multiple all-pro future.
With his weaknesses glaring, he is still the best defender on the field. When he plays cleanly, he is the best defender on any field.
Selected by the Bills. Perfect fit. Perfect perfect perfect. Huge hole at mike, and he will waltz into the first string. Sean McDermott uses a 4-3 requiring strong play at mike. He came from Carolina and helped develop Luke Kuechly. The scheme does not protect linebackers, and requires them to have the positioning and athleticism to make plays themselves. Heavy zone coverages, and he needs a mobile pass defender at mike. What Sean needs at mike is only possible by a very few human beings on the planet to be run well, and TE is one of them. In other words, Sean needs someone like TE, and TE needs someone like Sean. Perfect match. The more I dive into it, the more excited I get.
Buffalo will put TE in a position where they take advantage of his strengths, and will not have to struggle with anything unfamiliar to him except translating the terminology. He waits a heartbeat longer before he moves, and he will be the perfect mike for that defense.
Remember the thing about Josh Allen's juvenile tweets? They were a big deal. Word was the locker room was not ready to accept Allen, if they thought he was a racist. Allen and TE were in the plane together flying to Buffalo. TE was still 19. Allen was two years older.
The stakes were huge. Allen was the heir apparent franchise quarterback, the next Jim Kelly. If this was a failed pick, it set the franchise back for years. See Browns, Cleveland. The body language was Allen was shaken. TE was calm and was the one showing leadership when the two were together. Allen kinda babbled contritely. TE could have ducked and dodged, not to piss off his new defensive teammates. Instead, TE calmly and clearly said WTTE, "I spent the last two hours with Josh and got to know him. I think he is a good man." You listened to him. You believed him. 19 years old.
Bam. The Josh Allen controversy was shut. That was that. It really was amazing. I expect him to establish that level of leadership on the Bills' defense.
For the Bull
I have Danny Trevathan onboard doing what TE will be asked to do, so on the team the two and De'Vondre Campbell will split Will, Mike, and Sam, with Kyle Emanuel losing his starting job. I think Trevathan can play all three slots, and Campbell can play Will or Sam. So TE will probably play Mike as soon as he can handle it. On nickel, TE will join Campbell and make one of the best pass defending linebacker duos in the league. The Bull will use some 3-4, and TE will play one of the inside slots.
If TE is slow to develop, I'll stay with Campbell/Trevathan/Emanuel, and Campbell/Trevathan/Emanuel/Chickillo.
In a year or two Trevathan will be gone, and it will be TE's defense.