Terrell Edmunds could help the New York Jets rebound at the safety position
Kansas City’s Tyrann Mathieu is the lone star-caliber free agent who can be labeled as a strong safety. However, he might not be the best fit for the Jets’ timeline due to his age and inconsistent production.
Unless the Jets decide to make a surprising push for Mathieu, they’ll be searching through the middle tiers of the free-agent market for a new strong safety.
Enter Terrell Edmunds of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Edmunds could headline the second wave of signings at the safety position. More specifically, he is one of the most intriguing strong safeties on the market.
Let’s dive in and figure out if Edmunds is a worthwhile target for the Jets.
Edmunds just turned 25 years old in January, so he’s about as young of a free agent as you will find. A first-round pick of the Steelers in the 2018 draft, Edmunds has been a four-year starter in Pittsburgh, playing in 64 games and starting 60 of those. As we’ll find out, he’s no star, but he has been a consistently respectable starting-caliber player.
With that basic synopsis in mind, what will Edmunds be worth on the open market?
Looking at the 2021 free-agent safety market, Rayshawn Jenkins provides a strong comparison. Jenkins hit the market at 27 years old as a multi-year starter with a reputation as a solid-but-unspectacular player. He fetched a four-year, $35 million deal from Jacksonville ($8.8 million per year).
In 2020, 25-year-old Vonn Bell and 26-year-old Eric Murray had similar reputations and both signed a three-year deal worth $18 million ($6 million per year).
A reasonable expectation for Edmunds would probably be a multi-year deal worth somewhere from $7-8 million per year.
So, does Edmunds have what it takes to be a positive-value addition to the Jets on such a contract?
Edmunds was an every-down player for Pittsburgh. He played 98% of the Steelers’ defensive snaps this past season, starting all 17 of their games.
A big-bodied safety at 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds, Edmunds makes his home near the line of scrimmage.
Edmunds only lined up as a deep safety on 23.4% of his defensive snaps in 2021, ranking 10th-lowest out of 105 qualified safeties. He ranked 16th with 40.9% of his snaps coming in the box and placed 12th with 28.6% of his snaps coming in the slot.
New York was using Marcus Maye in a similar role (32.8% deep/42.8% box/18.0% slot) in 2021 before Maye went down with a season-ending injury. Maye is a free agent and his return seems unlikely, so the Jets could use a player like Edmunds to fill Maye’s shoes as the team’s versatile box safety.
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The most appealing aspect of Edmunds’ resume is his coverage.
Edmunds has earned a Pro Football Focus coverage grade of 70+ in back-to-back seasons. His 71.6 grade in 2021 ranked 28th out of 74 qualified safeties (63rd percentile) and his 76.0 grade in 2020 placed 12th out of 67 qualifiers (83rd percentile).
It’s Edmunds’ man coverage that propels him into the upper echelons of the passing game.
In 2021, Edmunds gave up only 4.7 yards per reception in man coverage, the eighth-best mark among the 33 safeties to face at least 10 targets in man coverage. That was no fluke, as in 2020, he ranked third-best with 3.2 yards allowed per target.
Particularly, Edmunds thrives in the slot.
Pittsburgh is comfortable using Edmunds in the slot, and he delivers over a large sample of reps in that position. Edmunds ranked second among safeties with 190 slot coverage snaps in 2021. He gave up just 120 yards in slot coverage, an average of 0.63 yards allowed per slot coverage snap that ranked fourth-best out of 28 qualified safeties.
Once again, this performance was not a one-year wonder, as in 2020, Edmunds placed ninth-best out of 25 qualifiers with 0.84 yards allowed per slot coverage snap.
Slot coverage was a major weakness for the Jets’ safeties in 2021. They combined to allow 1.40 yards per slot coverage snap, placing 30th out of 32 safety units. Considering the Jets asked their safeties to play the slot on 18.2% of their coverage snaps, which ranked 10th-highest out of 32 safety units, it’s definitely a trait that they value at the position.
Edmunds is less effective in zone coverage, giving up 8.2 yards per target in zone over the past two years.
Despite being a box player, run defense is the question mark for Edmunds.
Edmunds contributed to the Steelers allowing an NFL-worst 5.0 yards per carry in 2021. His 34.0 run-defense grade at PFF ranked second-worst among qualified safeties.
An exorbitant amount of the rushing yards allowed by Pittsburgh came on home-run plays. According to Football Outsiders, the Steelers allowed an NFL-worst 1.15 “open field yards” per carry – which are yards gained beyond 10 yards downfield. That is a statistic that safeties are hugely responsible for, making it an indictment on Edmunds.
That is a big outlier compared to the rest of his career – Edmunds never graded this poorly over his first three seasons – but Edmunds still doesn’t have an amazing reputation in the run game. His 58.9 run-defense grade in 2020 ranked 51st out of 67 qualifiers (24th percentile).
Edmunds is a reliable tackler. In each of his four seasons, he had a missed tackle rate below 11.5%, which was the 2021 league average for safeties.
This past season, Edmunds placed 27th out of 74 qualified safeties with a 9.3% missed tackle rate.
Edmunds has only missed one game in his career which was due to a shoulder injury in 2020. He returned the following week.
Should the Jets go after Terrell Edmunds?
Edmunds makes a lot of sense for New York as a young, starting-quality strong safety who should come at a relatively affordable cost. He and Dallas’ Jayron Kearse highlight the best mid-tier options for the Jets to find their new starting strong safety.
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