Mario Edwards, Jr.: To Date
Edwards was the top overall prospect in the country coming out of high school in the class of 2012. He didn’t expect to play much as a freshman since Florida State already had Bjoern Werner, Brandon Jenkins, and Tank Carradine at the end position and arrived to campus a bit out of shape. Jenkins went down with a season-ending foot injury in the first game, pushing Edwards into action and then and Carradine tore his ACL against Florida, pushing Edwards into the starting lineup for the final two games of 2012, flashing his enormous potential against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game.
Edwards was a starter in 2013 in a campaign where he grew increasingly dominant as the year wore on and his comfort level in the new defensive system increased. Edwards finished with 28 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, an interception, and a fumble return for a touchdown. Played a key role in the Seminoles’ BCS National Championship victory over Auburn as he won his matchup against eventual #2 overall NFL draft pick Cam Robinson and made several key plays in the backfield.
Rare jumbo athlete with unusual combination of bulk and explosiveness. Possesses good but not elite length with longer than usual arms given his 6’3 height. I expect his wingspan to measure around 6’6 at the NFL Combine. A naturally thick build with large thighs and a thick midsection with a huge bubble; carries nearly 300 pounds extremely well and moves like a much smaller man.
Very explosive with plus short-area quickness who can disrupt plays with quickness. Typically plays with good leverage and a low pad level, particularly when two-gapping or crashing inside on the B gap. Disruptive against the run and can set the edge with power and has the ability to run to the sideline with most skill players. Exceptional against option and read plays, as illustrated against Georgia Tech in 2012 and Auburn in 2013.
Rare player who can play in both two-gap and one-gap schemes and can fit anywhere from the 3 technique to the 9 technique. Has even showed the athleticism and ability to be a reasonable coverage player in fire zone techniques and can run with most tight ends. Does a good job getting his hands up and obscuring passing lanes. Started to display solid defensive instincts toward the end of 2013.
Room for Improvement
Has to keep his diet under control as he naturally carries a lot of weight. Not a natural one-gap 4-3 speed rusher and still has a lot of room to develop in the finer points of the end position in terms of hand position and secondary rush moves. Not a prototypical pass rusher from the rush end spot, though that is mostly because FSU does not ask him to fill that role.
Was not in optimal physical condition in 2013 and showed effects of fatigue at times, though that was somewhat due to Florida State’s lack of depth behind Edwards and the fact that he played more snaps than any other defensive lineman. Needs to be more consistently disruptive to match the ceiling he has flashed at times.
Floor/Ceiling & NFL Potential
Edwards has an almost unlimited ceiling and given good health and a great work ethic could find himself in Canton. If he continues to improve on the performances he displayed at the end of 2013, he could easily rise into the top 5 of the next NFL draft. NFL teams will love his ability to move around on the defensive line and his scheme flexibility—very few have his capacity to play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense at a high level, though he is perhaps best suited to odd fronts.
His near-term floor is still in the first round. But if he doesn’t maintain his body and stay careful with his diet, Edwards could potentially outgrow his position and lose some of what makes him special. In that case, his floor would likely be a 6–8 year pro who eventually moves progressively inside and winds up in more of a defensive tackle role.
The late, great Reggie White. Similar big-bodied, explosive, versatile defensive end with the ability to win with size, leverage, and explosiveness. More recently, former LSU, Dallas Cowboys, and Baltimore Ravens defensive end Marcus Spears, who was a little bigger but not quite as explosive as Edwards.
Outlook for 2014
I expect a dominant year from Edwards, who by all accounts has come into preseason camp in the best shape of his life. Florida State will highlight his athleticism by moving him around more and standing him up as an edge rusher or dropping him into coverage more often than in previous years. Despite an overall reduction in snaps as Florida State plays its young backups more in numerous blowouts, I expect him to double his 2013 output in tackles for loss and sacks (~19TFLs, ~8 sacks) and ultimately wind up a top 10 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.