Every time T.J. Edwards walks into that weight room, undoubtedly paying respect to the Kobe Bryant mural on the way, the linebacker thinks about not getting drafted. He remembers the 32 teams, including the Eagles, who initially passed on his services. Now Edwards has been thrust into a starting role in Philly but he’s not taking the underdog mask off.
“I think it just put a chip on my shoulder, just something that I do is I think I’ll always use, to be honest with you,” Edwards said. “I think it’s something that is always with me, that I’ll always carry with me. That 32 teams passed on me and I need to go out there every single day, in the weight room, and prove why they made the wrong decision. It’s exciting to me, I like that underdog feeling.”
Edwards, who went undrafted out of Wisconsin in 2019, had been pegged as a Day 3 pick — mid to late rounds, per Draft Network, seen as a “reserve linebacker that finds work on early downs and core special teams contributor.” He wasn’t equipped to be a three-down linebacker. No mobility, thanks to an incredibly sluggish 40 time (4.77 seconds).
“I thought it was a little lower than that,” laughed Edwards when a Philly reporter misquoted his 40 time at 4.87. “I think, in general, I’ve just been a guy that has always worked at my craft. I think technical-wise I knew I had to be sound in everything I did. I feel really comfortable in the middle. I feel really comfortable taking on blocks. And I feel really comfortable in coverage.”
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Eagles Marked Edwards ‘Red-Star Player’
Obviously, the Eagles didn’t draft Edwards. No one did. However, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz revealed the scouting department had him marked as a “red-star player” and made sure to pounce on the undrafted rookie free agent as soon as he hit the waiver wire. Sure, the slow 40 time worried them but his production in college kept jumping off the page.
“I think that T.J. is a guy that plays football well,” Schwartz said. “Our scouts really did a great job with him getting him as a free agent. A lot of our scouts had him marked as one of their red star players which means that’s one of their favorite players in the draft and we made a strong effort to get him after the draft.”
Edwards was a four-year starter at Wisconsin where he made 367 tackles (ninth-most in school history) and recorded 10 interceptions (most by a linebacker in school history). Not only that, his 52 career starts were second-most in school history and fifth-most by a Big 10 player.
Edwards’ best trait then — and best trait now, per Schwartz — is his tackling. The Eagles coach compared him to a linebacker he employed in Buffalo named Preston Brown. The former third-round pick led the entire NFL in total tackles (144) in 2017.
“He led the NFL in tackles a couple years and he went out there as a rookie, and you didn’t even call the game as if you were trying to cover him up and that’s the way I feel about T.J.,” Schwartz said. “Everything we’ve asked him to do, he’s been able to do, and there’s a difference between a guy that tests well and a guy that plays football well.”
New 3-Down Linebacker in Philadelphia?
The 6-foot-1, 242-pounder was a dual-threat quarterback at Lakes Community High School in Illinois (outside Chicago) where he compiled a 17-3 record as a starter. Edwards threw for more than 2,500 yards and 30 touchdowns while rushing for another 854 yards and 16 scores. He jumped in at safety during his senior year and recorded 20 tackles, two sacks and one interception in three games on defense.
The 24-year-old wasn’t sure if his experience under center helped mold him into a better linebacker. “Maybe that has a little carryover,” said Edwards — although he admitted all the “zone-read stuff” going on in the NFL right now was common at the high school level. Instead, Edwards points to his instincts and letting them take over in the absence of pure straight-line speed.
“I feel that I’m always finding a way of being around the ball,” Edwards said. “I think instincts can make up for that.”
The Eagles need three-down linebackers now more than ever. Edwards played a career-high 62 snaps (78%) last week versus Dallas. And while he’s been given no assurances that he’s always going to be utilized in that manner, Edwards thinks he can do it. He knows he can be successful.
“I think I can definitely do it. I have all the confidence in the world in that,” Edwards said. “The NFL is all about when you get your number called, you have to be ready to make a play and you have to be ready to be on your game at all times. And whenever that time is, I’ll be ready.”
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