Soon after the 2015 season, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie issued an ominous warning about the health of young defensive end Mario Edwards Jr.
McKenzie noted that Edwards, who’d had a strong rookie season until he suffered a neck injury late in the year, wasn’t a sure thing for 2016. McKenzie hinted that Edwards may have had a “congenital” condition that could endanger this coming season or, perhaps, his career.
“Whatever happened in that game triggered something,” McKenzie said of the December game against the Packers in which Edwards was injured. “We’re at the mercy of the medical people because it’s a question mark. If it was clear, they would have said, ‘Oh, he’s done,’ or ‘He’ll be ready to go.’ It’s something that is going to take time so they can figure it out.”
In recent days, however, McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio have been sending out much more optimistic signals about Edwards.
“He’s doing great, and it’s all about giving him time,” McKenzie told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group earlier this month. “We’re in no hurry.”
Then, this week at the NFL’s annual meetings in Florida, Del Rio was even more positive. He told reporters he is “optimistic” that Edwards will be in the Raiders lineup in 2016.
If Edwards is healthy enough to play, it further boosts a Raiders defense that has added cornerback Sean Smith and pass-rushing linebacker Bruce Irvin through free agency.
As a rookie, Edwards started 10 games, played in 14, had 2½ sacks and was in on 41 tackles. The stats weren’t eye-popping, but his play was.
Late in the season, the analytics website Pro Football Focus put Edwards (and Raiders receiver Amari Cooper) on its list of Rookie of the Year candidates. PFF ranked Edwards No. 8 among all rookies.
After a fairly quiet first third of the season, Edwards earned more playing time and showed he deserved it.
Wrote Pro Football Focus: “He has delivered excellent play wherever the Raiders have lined him up, with his ability to contribute in every phase of the game (and) adding to the Oakland defense in a big way.”