Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente says Tremaine Edwards is the kind of player who makes coaches look smart and teammates look better.
"He made so many plays we just started to call him 'The Eraser,' " Fuente said Friday while traveling home from the NFL Draft in Dallas. "If things were messed up, if guys missed an assignment, he would always find a way to get the guy on the ground so we could line up and play another play. We'd be in a bad position on defense but Tremaine saved us by making a stop."
That's the kind of elite-level playmaking the Bills defense could use. The Bills drafted Edmunds 16th overall Thursday with the hope that he will become a sideline-to-sideline playmaker.
Where exactly does Edmunds fit in the Bills' defense. The answer, they hope, is everywhere.
Edmunds is 6-foot-4 1/2 and 253 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds at the Scouting Combine. That speed should make him an every-down player from Day One of his Bills career.
Whether Edmunds starts on the strong side or in the middle is uncertain. It might be a lot to ask him to be the play-calling middle backer at 20 years of age as a rookie.
However, Fuente said Edmunds' aptitude to learn the Virginia Tech playbook allowed the Hokies to move him all over.
"He can handle it, first of all," Fuente said. "Regardless of your athleticism, you can't do all those things if you can't process the techniques and the assignments. He can do that. He's a sharp cat. Combined with the frame and athleticism, it gives you a pretty darn good weapon."
"He is the entire package," Fuente said. "He was raised the right way by his family."
Virginia Tech played with two linebackers in a nickel defense (4-2-5) the vast majority of last season because most college teams play spread offense. Edmonds usually was the "boundary" linebacker, playing on the short side of the field. The Hokies call the wide-side-of-the-field linebacker their "mike" or "field" linebacker.
But the Hokies blitzed Edmonds, either up the middle or off the edge, at least five times a game. He was used as a spy of the quarterback against Miami. He was on the line of scrimmage as a traditional strong-side backer in some goal-line situations. He covered backs and tight ends in coverage. He followed backs and receivers out to the sideline in underneath coverages. He walked out of the box to cover slot receivers at times.
On one noteworthy play against Miami, he covered 6-4 receiver Darrell Langham in the slot and broke on a hook route for a pass breakup.
"Some of that flexibility is what attracted us to him," said Bills coach Sean McDermott.
"You walk him out of the box and he's athletic enough to play in space," Fuente said. "We did some things into the boundary where he'd let us roll the coverage to the field side and let him take the No. 2 receiver into the boundary all by himself, and that guy can't get open. That's the matchup the offense should be able to win on. Having seen it in practice for two straight years now, we didn't win that matchup very much just because he's so long and athletic."
How freakish is Edmunds? Only one 250-pound linebacker has run faster at the combine in the last 10 years. That's former New Orleans edge rusher Martez Wilson, who ran 4.49. Edmunds also has exceptionally long arms, at 34 1/2 inches.
Edmunds has drawn comparisons with Hall-of-Famer Brian Urlacher. He ran 4.57 at 6-5 and 258 pounds, with 33-inch arms. Carolina All-Pro Luke Kuechly ran 4.58 at 6-3 and 242, with 31-inch arms.
The middle linebacker the Bills need to replace, Preston Brown, ran 4.79 at 6-1 and 251 pounds, with 33 1-2-inch arms. Bills incumbent weak-side backer Matt Milano ran 4.67 at 6-foot, 233, with 32-inch arms.
The long arms make Edmunds more effective in zone drops.
"We've had plays in our 7-on-7 drills where he hasn't been dropping but he's been hooking up on the back," Fuente said. "So he's closer to the line of scrimmage and he's still knocking balls down because he's so long."
Edmunds wasn't perfect. He showed over-pursuit at times. He was beaten for a 56-yard TD pass to a running back when he got caught staring into the backfield against Clemson.
But he generally displayed solid tackling.
"One, Bud Foster deserves a tremendous amount of credit," Fuentes said, referring to his defensive coordinator. "He's a great fundamental teacher. Tremaine has taken those fundamentals to the field. Two, he can bend. He's not a stiff player. So when he does get in the open field and he's in close proximity, he can sink his hips and get the guy on the ground. You watch him tackle smaller players in the open field. Three, he's so long, he's hard to run around. He's got a long reach. Even if he is just a little bit off he can usually get a hold of something and get the guy down."
"I think they're going to love his aptitude, his ability to pick things up," Fuentes said. "They're going to be limited only by their imagination on what to do with him."