This is the next piece in a series analyzing the Bills' most significant questions entering the offseason. Part 4: What is the next step for Tremaine Edmunds?
The oldest player in the Buffalo Bills’ locker room saw uncommon maturity in the youngest, which bodes well for 20-year-old middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and the defense he’s expected to lead for years to come.
“Years don’t define your wisdom or your maturity,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, 35, said when discussing Edmunds’ challenges as he heads into his first NFL offseason.
“I think people often get caught up in your age, because I know a lot of 30-year-olds in this league that act like kids. And he’s the complete opposite of that, and all that goes back to the way his parents have raised him, his brothers, the way they compete and hold each other accountable, and he just continues to grow and embrace it, because he has a very great sense of awareness and urgency about who he is and what he wants to be in this organization.”
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Edmunds, whose father was a Pro Bowl tight end for the Dolphins and whose older brothers play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, shouldered a hefty load his rookie season after being drafted out of Virginia Tech with the 16th overall pick in the first round last April, when he was just 19 years old.
Edmunds led the Bills with 121 tackles and 12 pass breakups while anchoring a defense that finished second in the league by allowing just 294.1 yards per game.
He played more than 91 percent of the Bills’ defensive snaps, third-most on the team this season.
And he performed like no other, becoming the youngest player in NFL history to record an interception, and the only player in the league to finish the season with at least 120 tackles, 12 pass breakups, two sacks, two picks and two forced fumbles.
The Bills expect much more.
“I think everybody forgets, especially if you’re around him all the time because he’s so big, that he’s 20,” Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said. “He’s still growing into his body, believe it or not. But mentally, this was a big step. A lot was asked of him that was not asked at Virginia Tech.
“For all that was thrown at him, I thought he really progressed. I thought (in the season finale), we saw a guy that just pulled the trigger faster than he had pulled it all year. There were times that he was still hesitant during the year.”
Edmunds had a career-high 12 tackles, a sack and an interception in the season finale against Miami.
Days later, he was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month.
To hear his teammates tell it, Edmunds’ leadership at such a young age is what stands out most.
“Towards the latter part of the season he really started to take control of the defense, take onus of getting everyone lined up, making sure everyone’s situated,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said, “and I think that’s perfect for our middle linebacker. That’s something that linebackers hang their hat on, making sure everyone gets the call, making sure everyone is lined up properly, and they have the same call from the coordinator.”
“We knew when he got here that he was mature way beyond his years,” safety Micah Hyde said, “so he doesn’t have to try to be anybody he’s not. I can remember having a few conversations, me and (safety Jordan Poyer) talked to him way back when, and said, ‘Look, man. You run the defense. You need any help, we’re here with you. You do what you do.’ And I think that he really took that and ran with it.”
Edmunds graded 66th overall out of 88 NFL linebackers who played at least 300 defensive snaps this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
But he improved as the schedule progressed, using his size and athleticism to his advantage in coverage and as a pass rusher.
Edmunds’ pass rush graded 21st out of those same 88 linebackers. And his 13 quarterback pressures on just 50 blitzes ranked 18th in the league.
Among the 12 rookie linebackers who logged at least 20 percent of their team’s defensive snaps, Edmunds ranked sixth in passer rating when targeted (96.8), second in most plays on the ball, second in quarterback pressures and third in total tackles.
Edmunds said his goal is to begin his second season on the same trajectory he ended his rookie year.
“Just pick it up – that’s the main thing – pick it up where we left off from,” Edmunds said. “Just me, making sure I’m staying on top of everything that I’ve got to stay on top of. Being honest with myself and improving on other things that I need to improve on.”
Edmunds can improve on shedding blocks and finishing tackles.
His 18 missed tackles were fifth-most among all NFL linebackers. (Teammate Matt Milano had the fourth-most missed tackles at the position.)
That should come with coaching and reps.
In the interim, Edmunds may find his best use of time is studying film to identify tendencies and small details that could pay off next season, as he strives to become the player and leader he expects and the Bills need.
“Just really understanding situational ball,” Hughes said. “That’ll probably be next for him, just going back and working on the film, just to see the way coordinators attack, the way some quarterbacks work. There’s little nuances that you can use to help catapult your game.
“Once he figures that out – because he’s a big, strong, fast guy, he’s smart, he’s vocal and that’s everything you want in a linebacker. Now understanding football, in Year 2, once he picks that up he’ll be unstoppable.”