Last week, the Jets signed two of the players who were attending rookie mini-camp on a tryout basis to their 90-man roster. Jets fans might not know too much about these players, so I’ve been reviewing game footage to try and get an idea of their strengths and weaknesses. We’ll be looking at offensive tackle Markus Zusevics in a day or two, but today we focus on linebacker AJ Edds.
Edds is a 26-year-old former fourth-round pick of the Miami Dolphins and is 6’4″, 256 pounds. He suffered a torn ACL prior to his rookie season (2010) before playing a total of 11 games for the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts in 2011. In 2012, he tore his ACL again. He was with the Patriots again for preseason in 2013, but did not make the final roster.
After the jump, a recap of Edds’ career so far, together with a review of footage from 2011 and 2013 to assess what Edds brings to the table.
Note: Some statistics used in this article were exclusively provided by Pro Football Focus.
Who is AJ Edds?
Edds (pronounced “EEDS”) attended college at Iowa where he was a productive tackler in a strongside linebacker role alongside Pat Angerer. However, he made his name for his coverage abilities, which led to him intercepting five passes in his senior year. After he ran a 4.62 forty yard dash at the combine, he was projected as a late-round pick but the Dolphins took him in the fourth round. He was expected to contribute from the get-go in nickel packages, but unfortunately tore his ACL early on in training camp.
In preseason in 2011, Edds led the Dolphins in tackles, but was still surprisingly cut two days after making it through final cuts. The Patriots snapped him up and he played for them in a couple of early season games, but then when they placed him on the practice squad, the Colts pounced and he played for them for the rest of the year. Edds only saw action on defense in three games, but did record 13 tackles in 11 games overall. He played 58 snaps against the Patriots in week 13.
In 2012, Edds tore his ACL again, just days into training camp with the Colts. He was back with the Patriots for preseason in 2013, but played just one game and did not make the team. The Jets signed him after he performed well at the rookie mini-camp last week, which he was attending on a tryout basis.
Let’s look in detail at how he performed:
As noted, Edds led Miami in tackles with 18 and added a sack for good measure yet was still released in early September. In fact, in the first preseason game, Edds was one of the standout players. He had a sack, a couple of stops in the hole, one run stuff on the edge and a good play in coverage on third down. He did miss one tackle. In the next game, Edds gave up three third down catches, but on each of them he made a solid open field tackle to force a punt. He also downed a punt at the five yard line. Game three saw his role reduced, but he again forced a punt with a good open field tackle on third down and added a special teams tackle. In the last game, he had another special teams tackle and stuffed one run. The rest of his six tackles were downfield, but one of these was a great third down play where he covered the receiver at the marker as the quarterback rolled out and then came off his receiver to stop the quarterback just short of a first down as he tucked and ran.
2011 Regular Season
Week 2 – Patriots v Chargers: Edds played 10 snaps on defense and recorded a couple of tackles, including one where he came up and made an open field tackle after a five yard pass.
Week 8 – Colts at Titans: Edds did not play any snaps on defense, but did have a special teams penalty and a missed tackle on special teams.
Week 10 – Colts v Jaguars: Edds got into the game for three snaps, but the Jags ran three straight times and gained 27 yards. On the second of these – a 14-yard gain – Edds was blocked out of the play at the second level.
Week 12 – Colts v Panthers: Edds had a special teams tackle at the 20 early in the game, but the next time he was blocked at the point of attack and the return man went 76 yards.
Week 13 – Colts at Patriots: In this game, Edds played 58 snaps. He recorded nine tackles, although most of them were downfield gang-tackles. He was targeted once, unofficially, with Rob Gronkowski making a nine-yard catch for a first down on a well designed play where Julian Edelman was inside in the slot and ran between Edds and the other outside linebacker down the seam, with Gronkowski dropping in underneath from the outside slot to catch the ball and turn upfield. However, there were two other plays where they looked for Gronkowski and Edds was in a good position to see the ball fall incomplete. One was a holding penalty on New England anyway and the other saw the ball tipped so it fell short, although Edds would have made the third down stop even if Gronkowski had been able to make the catch with Edds on his back.
His best play against the run came late in the game where he was unblocked and came up to stuff a run in the hole. Gronkowski did score two touchdowns, although it would be harsh to blame either one on Edds. On the first one, Edds (#52) passed Gronkowski off to the safety, who as the announcer notes is out of position in two-deep coverage. On the second one, the Patriots shifted just before the snap and Brady lateraled to Gronkowski with blockers out in front of him, so Edds was never likely to get over and make a stop.
Ultimately, the Colts were pretty much overmatched, but Edds didn’t disgrace himself at all.
As noted above, Edds did make one appearance in preseason last year, in a game where he was credited with five tackles and played 18 snaps. On one play, he rushed the passer and got his hand up to deflect the pass which fell incomplete. One of his tackles saw him shed a block and stop the runner for a three yard gain, but the runner was able to fall forwards for the short yardage conversion. He gave up one catch for seven yards and there were a couple of plays where the quarterback looked his way but did not make the throw because he was in a good position.
Here’s a summary of what I learned from the footage, divided into categories:
Edds played most of his snaps at middle linebacker in 2011, although that’s because the majority were when Angerer (who ended up being his teammate in the pros as well) was out injured. The rest of his reps were as a 4-3 outside linebacker, so these roles would be most similar to an inside linebacker role in the Jets’ defense. In preseason in 2013, New England were using both formations and he was either employed as a 4-3 outside linebacker or a 3-4 inside linebacker.
In that one game where he played over 50 snaps, the Colts eventually resorted to using him to cover the deep middle. The Colts were basically playing a variation of a Tampa-Two and his first steps at the snap were always back-pedaling. In essence, he was operating as a free safety, enabling Antoine Bethea to step into the box as an extra linebacker. This is similar to what the Jets did with Jonathan Vilma and Kerry Rhodes in 2006, but while that was done for specific reasons (Vilma’s inability to handle the physicality of a 3-4 MIKE role and Rhodes’ playmaking propensity), this was more of a (failed) tactical decision by the Colts to try and slow down the Patriots’ high-powered offense.
Interestingly, at rookie mini-camp, Edds initially made an impact as a SAM linebacker. That’s the role Calvin Pace currently has, and it makes sense for Edds because he has adequate size to set the edge and can match up directly with a tight end in coverage. However, Rex Ryan suggested that he was just as impressed when they moved Edds “to the weakside” and Edds made a “seamless transition.” It’s important to note here that Ryan obviously didn’t mean the weakside edge rusher role currently occupied by Quinton Coples, but rather the weakside inside linebacker role currently occupied by Demario Davis. Edds is no edge rusher, but fits into Davis’ role quite well. Adding to the confusion, in Ryan’s defense, that role is called the WILL, whereas in some 3-4 alignments (including the one Eric Mangini brought to the Jets) the WILL is the weakside edge rusher.
Edds didn’t blitz very often, but did have a sack in a 2011 preseason game. This came as he was totally unblocked on a well-timed blitz up the middle. The rest of his pass rushes came up the middle and usually resulted in a quick pass. He didn’t get into the backfield, but with his bigger-than-usual size, he was able to rock his blocker back a few times.
At the snap of the ball, Edds is usually looking to negotiate traffic rather than aggressively pursuing the ball carrier. Most of the best plays he made saw him meet the runner in the hole, but there were a few when he chased to the outside. He definitely hustles and plays to the whistle, but is more likely to keep the run in front of him than aggressively take on a blocker. Where he was engaged with a blocker, there were a few occasions where he was unable to shed, but generally he does a good job of avoiding these situations.
Technique-wise, Edds is a sound tackler and uses his size well. There was only a couple of plays where a runner slipped away from him, one of which was in kick coverage. However, there were a few occasions where a runner was able to drive him for a couple of extra yards. Edds is usually in the pile if there’s a gang-tackle situation, but does show an ability to bring his man down in the open field.
As noted, this is Edds’ strong suit. In the Patriots-Colts game, he was sometimes employed in underneath zone coverage (usually David Harris’ role in Ryan’s defense) and sometimes would latch onto a slot receiver or tight end downfield or key a running back. Then, later on in that game, he was tasked with covering the deep middle. This led to him seeing a lot of coverage assignments against the likes of Wes Welker, Gronkowski and Edelman. Hardly any of the damage was done against Edds, but the Tampa-Two look was a complete failure as Tom Brady just picked the defense apart underneath. Still, the Colts (a very poor team that year) stayed competitive and only lost by seven.
Edds seemed to be in a good position more often than not and didn’t let anyone get behind him. He had a good sense of the five yard contact buffer zone and used it to his advantage. In particular, Edds made a lot of plays where he allowed the receiver to make the catch on third down but tackled them short of the marker to force a punt.
Edds is regarded as smart and the fact that he was already able to contribute in two different positions shows that he could be a versatile player that will adjust well to different situations. He didn’t make any obvious mistakes in coverage, although I would note that there were a few times where he continued to run deep with a receiver and didn’t realize that the ball had been passed underneath, so he ran himself out of the play when he could have turned around and made a tackle. He does seem to read the game well and avoid getting caught up in traffic but perhaps could have reacted a beat sooner on some running plays, to make the tackle before the runner can build up any momentum.
Iowa and Indianapolis don’t really have too much in common with the Jets’ system, so there may be a learning curve there. However, New England’s system – while there are still some differences – does have more common elements, so having passed through there may help the transition. As noted, he’s regarded as smart, so hopefully will pick up the system sooner rather than later.
On the broadcast of one of the games I watched, the announcer described Edds as “not a guy that wows you athletically, but still constantly around the football” (or words to that effect). I’d go along with that (although he wasn’t around the football that much when he was covering the deep middle because Tom Brady just kept throwing underneath). Still, Edds has impressive size and can run with a tight end or on special teams, so he’s not necessarily unathletic.
This is where Edds will likely have to carve himself a niche. He contributed in kick and punt coverage, playing both guard and tackle on the punt unit, so he was able to show that he could get downfield and block a punt rusher. On one play on the punt return unit he was called for a holding penalty at the line, but that was an aggressive block on one of the linemen, where he just took it too far over the edge and pulled him down. There were two plays on special teams where he was knocked down but got up to make the tackle, showing a good desire to keep playing to the whistle.
As noted, Edds has suffered a torn ACL on two occasions. Other than that, he had a concussion in 2011. He also missed the last few games of the 2011 season after suffering an ankle injury on a dirty block by Nate Solder on the final defensive play of the Patriots-Colts game where he first played a significant role on defense.
Having not even been on the 90-man roster a week ago, Edds would appear to be the longest of long-shots to make the team and have any meaningful contributions during the season. However, it’s not entirely unheard of for a tryout player to end up on the active roster (James Ihedigbo and Matt Simms being the two most recent examples).
Edds could in theory appear on the depth chart as a back-up for either Pace or Davis and that versatility helps his chances. The fact the Jets drafted three guys who are also competing for those roles does not, although he obviously shone brightly in comparison to them last week.
If Edds can stay healthy, he could contribute as a special teamer, a backup at more than one position and could maybe even stake a claim to being a regular in certain packages that could make use of his coverage abilities. After the draft, Rex Ryan spoke about his plans for Nick Bellore and Jeremiah George. Throwing Edds into that mix could be a good hedge against either injuries or the rookie not catching on as fast as the Jets are hoping.
I’ll be back with a look at Zusevics later this week.