The Pittsburgh Steelers have been looking for an elite playmaker leader in the secondary since the retirement of Troy Polamalu in 2015. Polamalu was DPOY in 2010 and also an integral piece in the Steelers’ two most recent Super Bowl victories. He occupied the strong safety role for twelve seasons in Pittsburgh, where he made eight Pro Bowls and provided a consistent, game-changing and intimidating presence on the back end. In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Steelers drafted former Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds in the first round.

The next intimidator

Edmunds is a player they feel could soon emulate the greatness and leadership once exhibited by his future Hall-of-Fame counterpart. He may be a few inches taller than Polamalu, but both players were built to bring pain. They both showed the same fire and intensity that makes a top NFL safety. JuJu Smith-Schuster has ignited the offense and fan base for the Steelers. However, there is excitement for the defense once again in Pittsburgh. And this second-year safety plays a sizable part in that optimism.

The start of something great

When the Steelers drafted Edmunds at 28th overall last season, it was a surprise to most draft experts. The former Hokie was a talented safety prospect entering the draft but most considered Edmunds as more of a second-day probability. He was a reliable all-around player for Virginia Tech, but his younger brother Tremaine consistently overshadowed Terrell. However, the older of the Edmunds brothers, Terrell Edmunds was a standout at the NFL Combine with a 41-inch vertical and 4.47 forty-yard dash. With the size that Edmunds possesses at 6’1″ and over 210 lbs, these numbers helped catapult Edmunds into prominence and the first-round conversation. He finished his career at Virginia Tech with 196 tackles, six sacks, and 1.5 sacks.

While Edmunds may have been less heralded than his brother, his talent is undeniable, and he joined his brother Tremaine as a rookie standout in 2018. He started 15 of 16 games as a fixture in his rookie season. That rookie season saw Edmunds accumulate 78 total tackles with one interception, one sack, and a fumble recovery. He appeared to start slow while learning the ropes, but Edmunds was much more comfortable in the second half of 2018. Edmunds also gained a ton of experience in his first season. If you combine his contributions on special teams, Edmunds played more total snaps than any other rookie in the NFL.

Potential star in the secondary

Those statistics combined with the intimidating presence he provided during his rookie season give fans a promising glimpse into the future. And with the additions made in the secondary this offseason, Edmunds will have more support to continue his ascension. Earlier this month, I had mentioned the big safety as a critical piece of the Steelers’ secondary moving forward. In a unit that seems devoid of consistent playmakers in recent years, he is a potential standout. The threat of a significant sophomore breakout looms, which would be a big boost to the Steelers’ defense as a whole.

Edmunds has the makings to be the best safety the Steelers have drafted since Polamalu and could be the answer the team has been seeking to upgrade this unit. Before his rookie season, his former coach at Virginia Tech compared him to another tremendous strong safety and leader Kam Chancellor. Chancellor was another great product of the Hokies’ defensive coordinator. Foster’s words may seem like high praise, but this is precisely the type of potential that the Steelers expected when they drafted Edmunds. Chancellor helped spearhead a defense that brought Seattle a Super Bowl win in 2014. The Steelers’ are hoping Edmunds will do the same for Pittsburgh.

Expectations for 2019 and beyond

All hyperbole aside, Edmunds will have a lot to learn and many areas to improve in his second NFL season. With that said, the team has to be happy with his overall usage so far with the team. His upside moving forward is immense, and it seems he may be ready to realize that ability in 2019. The sophomore safety recently commented on his rookie season and his expectations going into this season and beyond. The team will be counting on him more in year two if they are going to be a serious contender. As fans of the NFL, we know the Steelers offense will produce, but the defense will be playing catch up once again.

The experience Edmunds has gained explains why the game may be slowing down for him. That will be music to the ears of all fans in Pittsburgh. Anything short of a Pro Bowl season in 2019 could be a letdown, but the standard has been set. The Steelers want to win now and will need him to be the same type of leader as the man who announced him to the team in the 2018 Draft. Ryan Shazier may still be the heartbeat of this Steelers defense, but Edmunds has the chance to steal passes and the hearts of those in the Steel City in 2019.

Scott Gorman is a writer for PFN covering the Pittsburgh Steelers. You can follow him @sgormanPFN on Twitter.