When the Raiders made defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. the 35th overall pick of this spring’s NFL draft, not all observers were impressed.
Edwards was strong against the run at Florida State, but hardly was a pass-rushing demon. His weight blew up to more than 300 pounds at one point, and he collected just eight sacks as a Seminole.
Critics faulted Edwards for a lack of desire and work ethic, and even Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio acknowledged that, telling reporters after the draft that, “We see a supremely talented guy that obviously had a case of senioritis.”
But now, with two weeks of training camp gone and the Raiders’ preparing for their preseason opener Friday night against the Rams at O.co Coliseum, Edwards has worked hard to change those perceptions.
In the team’s first depth chart, released this week, Edwards is listed as the backup to Justin Tuck at one defensive end spot, and has shown well in drills and scrimmages. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Vic Tafur, who covers the Raiders, wrote this week that Edwards “appears to be responding to being pushed and prodded. The skill was never an issue.” After watching him in practices at the Napa training camp, Tafur says it’s obvious Edwards can play.
Over the weekend, Edwards – who’s down to 285 pounds from a high of 310 in college, and playing both defensive end and tackle in practice – held his own in one-on-one drills against longtime veteran Khalif Barnes.
Every day is a learning experience for him.
“It could have been worse,” Edwards told the media. “But Khalif is a 10-year vet. I was trying different things, but some of the things I do, he’s already seen.”
If Edwards can learn and show some positive things against the competition in the four preseason games, his presence on the defensive line could be a big boost for a rebuilding Raiders franchise. Young draft picks such as Edwards, defensive tackle Justin Ellis and linebacker/defensive end Khalil Mack could be the foundation of a young, aggressive defensive unit.
Edwards certainly has shown he’s willing to work. The senioritis is gone. He told the media recently that he has a “chip on my shoulder” to prove critics wrong.
Said Edwards: “I just want to prove to myself I can be the best that I can be.”
So far, he’s on the right track.