Bryan Edwards is the ‘most underrated receiver in the nation’


South Carolina wide receiver Bryan Edwards is quite possibly the quietest, yet most productive, prospect you will come across in the 2020 NFL Draft. Edwards is leaving South Carolina with an array of school accolades, including: most consecutive games with a reception (48), career receptions (234) and career receiving yards (3,054). He also sits third in career touchdowns with 22, which is only one behind Sidney Rice and Alshon Jeffery. His 48 games with at least one reception means he caught a pass in every single game he played in at South Carolina! Believe it or not, Edwards ranks third in SEC history with 234 career receptions and fourth in the league all-time with 3,045 yards.

The son of two former military parents initially committed to South Carolina to play for, then, head coach Steve Spurrier. After Spurrier resigned, Edwards re-opened his recruiting, that is, until Will Muschamp took over the program. Muschamp made Edwards a priority, and he immediately paid Edwards a visit. With Edwards’ grandfather — a former Clemson Tigers football player — present, Muschamp and his staff made their pitch.

“They had a great message for me and they had a great plan for me — and they kind of turned the tide,” Edwards told the media prior to the 2019 season.

The visit convinced Edwards to spurn Dabo Swinney and Clemson and commit to South Carolina. Muschamp and his staff upheld their word to make Edwards a star. Players came and went in their program yet Edwards was steady. Each season he saw a heavy workload, and in each season he was a player they could count on.

Per SportsInfo Solutions

According to his former high school coach Chuck Jordan, Edwards is known for being more of the quiet type.

“He never liked drawing any attention to himself, but his athleticism in itself drew attention to him,” Jordan stated. “He has a big frame and can go up and get the ball. He attacks the ball at the highest point.” 

It’s Edwards’ size and athleticism that flash on film and allowed the Gamecocks staff to use him in a multitude of ways. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior sports a thick build, which is the primary reason that he is able to break a lot of tackles after the catch. In 2019, per SportsInfo Solutions (SIS), Edwards gained 67%, 550 yards, of his total receiving yards after the catch and broke 15 tackles in the process (sixth-most among WRs). This upped his total to 56 broken tackles over the course of his career. Of his 111 targets in 2019, 29 receptions of 31 targets went for 237 yards and one touchdown in the screen game. It’s those abilities that could really boost the Bills’ offense that lacked receivers with YAC ability altogether. Cole Beasley led all Bills receivers with 353 yards after the catch, with John Brown coming in second with 221 yards, but they weren’t guys that broke tackles to earn that yardage. Beasley and Brown only broke five tackles combined in their first year in Buffalo.

Edwards isn’t going to explode off the line of scrimmage during the release phase of his routes. He possesses average quickness to create immediate separation, but he exhibits active hands instead, and he makes his routes look similar — until they’re not. Here he is using similar footwork to run a slant in the first clip, then to run a takeoff route (video courtesy of @WurthDraft).

It’s often difficult to spot, but if you watch his footwork closely, you will see Edwards stab the outside short-arm of the Alabama defender on a one-step slant in the first clip. But then, just a few plays later, he makes it look similar, but this time he turns it into a three-step slant with some convincing footwork.

The nuance to his game can easily be overlooked because he doesn’t pop off the film like many SEC receivers do. Edwards likely runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.45-4.5 second range, which is average, so he must rely on other parts of his game to win. He has a knack for understanding a defender’s leverage within a given coverage and how to manipulate his route stem to maximize its effectiveness. On this play, Edwards is running a stop route, so you see him push vertically, and as he closes the cushion, he works into the blind spot of the corner. The corner is bailing deep with his eyes on the QB, which allows Edwards the ability to disappear behind the corner. Once in striking distance, he executes a subtle push-off with his inside hand. The push-off is subtle, but it creates massive separation for Edwards as if he just executed a “one-inch punch” on the defensive back. The move was sneaky, and I highly doubt any of the referees along the sideline could even see it.

Opposing defensive coordinators understood how important Edwards was to the Gamecocks’ passing game, so they often used ‘Cone’ coverages to bracket him. This kind of coverage allows the defensive backs to focus on one leverage technique, knowing that they have “help” of sorts. Having seen it often, Edwards understood how to beat the leverage of the defense. In the prior play, Edwards worked into the blind spot of the corner. This time, he works into the blind spot of the coverage. As the corner and safety wait for Edwards to declare whether he is running a go route or possibly working to the middle of the field, at which time the safety would take over, he drops his hips and works back towards the sideline. He leads with his eyes, which should be the last portion of his body that turns, but he’s still able to snag the pass for the first down.

The veteran receiver has seen it all, and when defenses went to this coverage, he knew how to get open and become QB friendly.

Edwards even confirmed via Twitter that defenses loved to play this coverage against him. But as you will see frequently in his film, he is able to find ways to separate.

Most notably, he separates by using his frame and hands. When opposing defenders wanted to play some form of press or tight man coverage, Edwards used it to his advantage.

He loves to lean into the defensive back, or what coach Jay Norvell calls “getting into the defensive back’s kitchen” to help separation.

The 2018 South Carolina strength and conditioning award winner’s strength shines through at the right times. On this touchdown against Georgia, Edwards is in a hand fight with the corner, and as he enters the end zone, he leans into the defensive back, places his right hand on his chest and slightly pushes off to prepare for the pass. This movement allowed Edwards to hold the proverbial ‘red-line,’ which is the 2-3 yard space to the sideline receivers want to give their QB when running fades or back shoulder passes. Good thing he did, because Edwards needed every inch to snare this pass for a touchdown. Such a great display of hand usage, play strength, body control and hands.

Edwards will drop a pass from time to time; he’s averaged just under six drops per season, but that shouldn’t scare teams away. Edwards diligently worked on improving his hands in his time in Columbia. According to Edwards, “Those dropped passes always make you work harder and make you reevaluate what you do and just focus. That’s it.” Well, his work paid off; Edwards’ drop percentage improved from 13-percent his junior season to just six-percent his senior year.

As you saw in the prior and following clip, Edwards doesn’t cue defenders as to when the ball is coming in. Not many receivers leave college with the ability to make catches by showing late hands. This technique makes it very difficult for the defender to make a play on the ball. Here, he puts his play strength on display again and snags the pass with one hand en route to the end zone.

Edwards has a balanced skillset that could help take Josh Allen’s success in the short and intermediate areas to the next level. As you will see in the following clip, he once again understands the leverage of the coverage. On the snap, the Clemson Tigers send a creeper pressure and play Cover 3 on the back end. Edwards finds the safety who dropped into the middle of the field and runs a dig route over the middle, but he carries his route just past the defender, catches the ball and breaks some tackles before diving into the end zone. That’s the type of yardage after the catch Allen needs in Year 3. According to SIS, the Bills had the third fewest yards after the catch with 1,559 yards. That means 45% of the Bills’ total receiving yards came via yards after the catch, and that percentage drops down to 37% purely from the wide receiver position. That is not enough “easy” production for a quarterback that could use it.

One way to ensure that type of production is to use Edwards in the slot, something Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll could absolutely do. The Gamecocks did routinely in 3×1 nub and 3×2 empty sets. Given his size, toughness and football IQ, he can run similar routes to tight ends over the middle.

Thirty-two of his receptions came from the slot, and they weren’t always easy catches or through clear passing lanes. Allen tends to avoid throwing over the middle as much as he can, but when he does, that target is typically gotten to late in the progression on spot or snag concepts. This can put the receiver in a tough spot because the throw is not only late, but it also comes in hot and in traffic. This is where Edwards’ size, fearlessness and ability to snare passes late could come in handy.

The 21 year old was awarded the Steve Wadiak Most Valuable Player Award, the Steve Spurrier MVP Award (offense) and the Most Explosive Player Award (offense) in 2019. But his skills will likely transition to a big-bodied possession wide receiver. From time to time, he will certainly flash more than that and will drop some jaws in the process.

Former South Carolina QB Jake Bentley told reporters prior to the season “he is just a workhorse.” But the hard-working South Carolina native wasn’t just working to improve his game or to improve his weaknesses. He took on the role of mentor to the underclassmen, according to Bentley.

“I’ve really been proud of Bryan the way he’s poured himself into the young receivers,” Bentley said. “I really think that’s something he’s really learned to do — to really give back to them, because he knows we’re only going to be as good as the rest of the guys, too. I think he’s doing whatever he can do help them along the way, as well.”

That is the type of DNA the Bills love.