2020 NFL Draft: SEC Summer Seniors – South Carolina WR Bryan Edwards

The dog days of summer are upon us. What better time to jump into some film and evaluate the senior 2020 NFL Draft prospects of the SEC.

The SEC is jam-packed with NFL prospects, as usual. There is plenty of returning talent to investigate before the 2019 season and subsequent 2020 NFL Draft. A senior that stood out last season and surprisingly returned to school was South Carolina’s Bryan Edwards.

Many in the draft community, including myself, were excited about the possibility of Edwards joining teammate Deebo Samuel (an eventual 2nd round pick by the San Francisco 49ers) in the 2019 NFL Draft. Instead, Edwards decided to return to the Gamecocks and work on increasing his draft stock.

Meet Bryan Edwards

Bryan Edwards was a four-star recruit coming out of high school in South Carolina, ranking 42nd among wide receivers by Rivals. A big-framed receiver, he was thrust into action as a freshman catching 44 balls for a shade under 600 yards and four touchdowns. For his career as a Gamecock, Edwards has over 2,000 yards on 163 receptions and 16 total touchdowns. He has been a consistent part of the offense since he arrived on campus in Columbia. The South Carolina native posted those numbers despite some poor quarterback play from Jake Bentley, who arrived on campus at the same time as Edwards.

In his senior campaign, Edwards will still have Bentley at the helm but will be missing the explosive Samuel next to him. The senior must now prove that he can be the clear top receiving option in the Gamecock offense, and he possesses the skill set to do so. Even in a crowded 2020 receiving class, the Edwards should stand out. His size and physical traits make him a different type of receiver than most of the other top guys in this upcoming draft class.

Bryan Edwards is the fourth player featured in the SEC Summer Seniors series as part of the NFL Draft coverage. Last week it was LSU corner Kristian Fulton under the spotlight. Previous installments featured Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Alabama defensive tackle Raekwon Davis. This series will look at strengths, weaknesses, and an initial summary based on the knowledge we have entering the 2019-20 college football season.

Attributes

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 205 lbs

Strengths

The first trait that pops in Edwards’ film is his impressive size. At 6-foot-3, he stands as an imposing number one receiver. South Carolina, wisely, shifts him all over the field. That speaks to his nuanced ability as a route runner, and ability to beat press both inside and out. The South Carolinian uses his size to his advantage, and you can tell he is comfortable with any contact at the line of scrimmage. This play below highlights his ability to beat press coverage, adjust to a poorly thrown ball, and make a play.

Receivers of Edwards’ size need to be physical to dispel any negatives that come with the deficit in shiftiness. Even with the ball in his hands, the big wideout has a physical running style. After watching both him and Deebo Samuel from a year ago, it just seems like Gamecocks wide receiver coach Bryan McClendon must fight these guys in practice because all of them run extremely hard and physical.

There are subtle parts to Edwards’ game outside of his size and physical traits that will lead to him being successful at the next level. His football IQ is extremely high. During scramble drills, which there are a lot with Bentley under center, you can see Edwards work into soft spots and make himself seen to his quarterback.

While he may not be an extraordinary route runner, the physicality at the top of Edwards’ routes more than makes up for his lack of hip flexibility. He won’t be the type of player that drops his hips, cuts on a dime and gets separation. Instead, he quickly gets into defensive backs, doesn’t get thrown off his route, breaks clean and creates separation with his body, shielding defenders from the ball.

Finally, another way that Bryan Edwards will separate himself from the pack is with his blocking and play without the ball in his hands. He is a competitor, through-and-through. When on the field, there is never a play where he is not working his tail off. On bubble screens, and run plays, Edwards makes life miserable for those smaller defensive backs lined up opposite of him.

Here is a play that highlights the total experience of watching the Gamecock receiver play. He varies his pace to get the defensive back on his heels, gets physical at the route stem, uses his frame to shield the defender, and makes a great play. Unfortunately, he lacks the second gear to break away from these defensive backs and gets caught from behind.

Weaknesses

From the clip above, the biggest weakness of Bryan Edwards is apparent: he is not an elite athlete for the position. Other issues stemming from his athletic deficit are his deep speed and agility. With his route running, the veteran receiver is far too reliant on using his frame to create separation instead of his athleticism.

Another area that is suspect but can be cleaned up this season is the hands. It is not that Edwards suffers loads of drops, because he does not. Instead, it is the little things like letting the ball get into his body or mistiming jumps that make him seem like he’s Hands from Little Giants.

The last little bit that I noticed from the film was out of his control. There just are not a ton of opportunities to see how he thrives in contested catch situations. Most of this is due to poor quarterback play from a guy that puts his receivers in difficult situations but also lacks the confidence to throw those 50-50 balls. Contested catches is an area where Bryan Edwards can thrive and I hope to see more of those opportunities for him in the upcoming season.

Summary

Reviewing the film on Bryan Edwards, it makes sense why he went back to school. He is going to drop a bit due to the loaded 2020 NFL Draft receiving group, but he will show that he is a complete receiver this upcoming season. A tough SEC schedule, featuring the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Gamecocks’ third game, will test Edwards early and often. His performance in the games against Alabama, Georgia and Clemson will significantly impact his draft stock.

It would be great to see Edwards benefit from improved quarterback play, but that won’t be the case with Jake Bentley under center. His game should grow into a more prominent role now that he is the clear cut top option. Edwards gives off vibes of Anquan Boldin – making up for a lack of top-end athleticism with physicality and competitiveness. Right now, mostly due to the other players in the class, Edwards is a day two pick. But with strong performances against the best competition in college football, Edwards’ stock has incredible upside. It should be an exciting season for Bryan Edwards and the Gamecocks in South Carolina and his senior season needs to be his best one yet.

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