Who is this guy?
Safety Mike Edwards played in every game during his four-year career at Kentucky and ended up making 44 consecutive starts before graduating with his degree in family sciences last December. On the field, he totaled 318 career tackles, which ranks second among defensive backs in the school’s history. Not only a tackle machine, Edwards had a total of 10 career interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
He earned All-SEC honors his last three seasons and was named to both the Thorpe Award and Bronko Nagurski Watch lists his senior year. In 2018, he tallied 76 tackles, 9.0 for loss along with six pass breakups and two interceptions as a team captain.
Coming out of high school in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was a four-star prospect and a four-sport athlete. In addition to football, Edwards played basketball, baseball and track. He was a guard in basketball and a shortstop on his school’s baseball team, in case you had any doubts about his athletic ability.
Following his time at Kentucky, Edwards earned himself an invitation to the Senior Bowl. He was one of a couple Kentucky defensive backs that caught the attention of scouts and coaches down in Mobile. Edwards got his first taste of NFL coaching on the South team under 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan.
If you follow him on Instagram, you’ll notice his handle is ‘badger_7’, which stems from his nickname of ‘Badger.’ In the same vein, Edwards chose his number seven jersey because of the Honey Badger, a.k.a. Tyrann Mathieu, who he looks up to as an athlete.
What are they saying about him?
Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht:
“Mike is a playmaker from the safety position. He’s moved around, he’s played a little bit in the nickel position. We see him more as a safety for us, as well. He has good speed, tough guy and just finds a way to get his hands on balls or intercept balls. Any Kentucky guy that we’ve talked to throughout this process, you ask them who you want to bring with you and it’s just Mike Edwards. It’s simple.”
Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles:
“He’s versatile, obviously he’s a very smart player. He’s a ball-hawk, he can make tackles, he can blitz. He can do a lot of things, and I think he fits in well here with the things we’ll ask him to do.”
Safeties coach Nick Rapone:
“Mike is exactly what we look for. We thought he had the ability to do everything that we wanted. First of all, he’s physical. Second of all, he can blitz. Third of all, he can cover. Fourth of all, to the best of our knowledge, he is cerebral. A safety in this scheme has to be cerebral. We saw all of those qualities in him. We’re not traditionally the 6-2, 215-pound safety because we’re a man team, we’re an aggressive football team so they have to be able to play man-to-man. So we think he fits exactly what our safeties need to do.”
“Without a doubt he was a leader. That’s what you’re looking for.”
What can he do?
Like Coach Rapone said above, Edwards looks to be very cerebral when he plays, meaning he can process what the offense is trying to do in real time. You’ll often see him making checks and re-aligning his teammates pre-snap if you watch game tape on him. His leadership is evident from that alone and the fact that he can read and react in real-time is a very valuable asset to have in the last level of the defense. It will be something the Bucs’ defense will need out of their secondary, along with the middle and first levels. Edwards also played a lot of man coverage as part of Kentucky’s scheme, which will come in handy for the aggressive defense the Bucs plan to field in 2019.
What makes his reads even better is that he has the athleticism to get there after recognizing the play. Take a look at the above at the 39-second mark where Edwards comes across to get the pass deflection as the cornerback has his eyes on the receiver rather than the ball. Edwards seems to have a good feel for the ball in general, evidenced by his 10 career interceptions.
Edwards had 19 pass deflections the last two seasons alone. He has the coverage skills to run with receivers, as well. He also can get downhill fast to play the run. On tape, it seems he indeed can do everything Coach Rapone mentioned above. He can get a little overzealous with tackles and end up missing them, but he does a great job of getting in position to make them in the first place with his play recognition.
How can he fit in?
General Manager Jason Licht said above that the Bucs see Edwards as more of a safety with Tampa Bay, so that’s probably where he’ll end up fitting in. However, we’ve heard Coach Bowles say that safeties can also play the nickel in his defenses and with Edwards’ skillset, we could end up seeing the 6-0, 200-pound player all over the field. Wherever he’s lining up on that particular snap, you should always look for him to be sizing up the offense and making adjustments from his vantage point with all of his defensive teammates in front of him. He has the leadership qualities and football IQ to be charged with such a role, even as a rookie.