Since defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. was drafted in 2015, the Raiders have loved his potential.
The problem, however, is that Edwards has been slowed by injuries. In 2017 he had his most productive season, playing in a career-high 14 games. But in his three-year career, Edwards has played in just 24 of a possible 48 regular-season games.
Now new head coach Jon Gruden is putting Edwards on the spot, demanding more from him. The plan of Gruden and his coaching staff is to play Edwards at defensive tackle rather than end, to give the team more inside pass-rush pressure. If Edwards can stay healthy, the 6-foot-3, 294-pounder could have a big, positive impact on the Raiders pass rush in 2018, says Gruden. Edwards’ impact could allow defensive end Khalil Mack to have a big year.
“(Mack) is a spectacular player,” Gruden told reporters at the NFL annual meetings in Florida this week. “I don’t think he’s scratched the surface yet. I think if we can get a better inside pass rush, a more consistent inside rush, a dominant inside rusher, you’d see the best of this guy. Some of the plays he’s disrupted that he hasn’t gotten credit for are really exciting for us to think what could happen.
“So Mario Edwards, if you’re listening out there, if we can get that inside rush going, that’s what Warren Sapp did for Simeon Rice (with Tampa Bay, under Gruden). If it’s difficult for the quarterback to step up, these great pass rushers could have a feast. Mack is certainly a centerpiece of our football team, and we’d like to get a better inside rush for him to be even better.”
In 2017, Edwards had a career-best 3½ sacks while being in on 27 tackles. Over his first two seasons he had just three total sacks.