Small School Spotlight; Earnest Edwards IV
Reinforcements for Haskins
With the NFL Draft weeks away and sporadic pro-days taking place around the nation due to the COVID-19 epidemic, small school prospects will be scrambling to get their film out to NFL decision makers. This year’s WR class is viewed by many talent evaluators as the deepest in recent memory.
The blue-chip receivers that are commonly mentioned in the Top 50 discussion in this year’s draft are: Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs III, Justin Jefferson, Laviska Shenault Jr and Tee Higgins but what about the late round talent that doesn’t get the same exposure coming from the small school level?
The NFL invited a few receivers from the small school level to this year’s NFL Combine with Liberty University’s Antonio Gandy-Golden and Arkansas State’s Omar Bayless being the headliners. Although both receivers have the talent to have success on the next level, another small schooler has the potential and versatility to be dynamic in the right situation. That prospect is Maine University receiver Ernest Edwards IV. Edwards was a late bloomer registering 1,273 receiving yards with 15 total TD’s (2 rushing and 1 thrown) during his first three seasons at Maine, but dominated the Colonial Athletic Conference during his senior season.
Edwards led the nation in 2019 with an eye popping 28.5 yard per KR average. In his own words, “If not for coach limiting my special teams’ snaps, I would have likely put up comparable punt return stats as well”. Last season was also his best year statistically as a receiver, registering 1097 rec yards, 11 td ‘s with a 19.0 per rec. Edwards accounted for 42 career TD’s during his time at Maine (27 rec, 6 KR, 5 passing TD’s and 3 rushing).
Versatility– Edwards was one of the most versatile offensive weapons on the small school level in 2019 as a returner and receiver. Similar to Colorado’s WR Laviska Shenault Jr, Edwards’ ability to line up in the backfield as a runner or in multiple occasions as a passer, led to defenses having to account for him on every snap. Add in the fact that the Maine receiver is also one of the most dangerous KR in the country and that makes him a valuable commodity in this year’s class.
Football IQ– As previously mentioned, Edwards has the ability to line up all over the field, but his ability to read defenses pre-snap separate him from many receivers in this class. His route tree knowledge is NFL ready and if not for playing on the small school level, he’d be in the conversation with other Top 20 pass catchers in this year’s draft
Acceleration– The Maine receiver displays an impressive second gear, especially when he hits the open field. Edwards has the ability to take it to the house every time he gets his hands on the ball. He displays the same type of elusiveness and shiftiness at receiver, as he does in the return game.
Getting to Know Edwards
During our Q&A sessions Edwards was asked about his thoughts on how he was utlized in Maine’s passing game. He was frequently used as the primary motion receiver while lining up in the slot, but his film also showed him lining up in the backfield. He was asked what he believed his best fit on the next level would be.
“I believe I can do a lot of things at the next level. I can play inside as a slot and get those matchups against linebackers or I can be placed on the outside and battle with the corners. It honestly doesn’t matter; whatever team gives me a chance and they ask me to play a certain position I believe I will excel at it. That’s just the confidence I have for myself since I was young. Once I’m on that field I’m a whole new person, I believe I can do anything”.
Prior to Edwards’ March 27th Pro Day, we discussed what he believed NFL talent evaluators would take away from his workout and what stigmas he wanted to shut down regarding his versatility.
“Once pro day comes around, I’m looking to open a lot of eyes. I think scouts just see me as a return specialist who does a good job at receiver also. That’s not true, like I said in many interviews, I am a receiver first then a return specialist. So, I cannot wait to show everyone my route running ability and prove to them that I’m up there with the best when it comes to route running. Also, I’ve been getting a lot of question about how fast I truly am. So, once it’s 40 time I cannot wait to surprise a lot of people with how fast I am”.
Edwards was named a unanimous All-CAA 1st Team Kick Returner. The question was posed as to what he felt separated him from other returners in the upcoming NFL Draft.
“I am different when the football is in my hands. I know how to make something out of nothing and my ability to make people miss is unmatched. My vision is also part of the reason why I’ve been so good at the return game because I can see things before they happen. I’ve been excelling at the return game in high school and came into college my freshman year doing the same thing all the way until my senior year. I don’t think nothing is going to change at the highest level, I believe it’s in my blood at this point. I cannot wait to show and prove everyone wrong who still doubts me”.
We wrapped up the Q&A session discussing what aspect of his game he felt he needed to focus on, in addition to what he believed would be the biggest hurdle coming from the small school ranks,
“Everyone has something they can improve on with their game and if someone ever says they are the perfect football player then it’s a lie. My biggest goal has always been getting my hands stronger and catching the ball with my hands more. Yes I can catch, and yes I catch with my hands but like a lot of receivers, I also have a tendency to catch with my body at times. It’s been working, I get the job done and make plays when needed to be made but if I really want to separate myself from the rest I must do things differently. Everything just looks a lot better and coaches are more confident when you are using your hands about 90% of the time. Also, I’m looking forward towards the hype about going against the best of the best. I come from FCS where people don’t believe there’s a lot of talent that’s comes out so once I prove to everyone that I can play ball with anyone, I’ll be fine”.
Fit in Washington
The Redskins situation at receiver has been a topic for debate all offseason. Second year WR Terry McLaurin is the unquestioned leader of the group with projected slot receiver Steven Sims Jr viewed as a player on the rise. Fellow second year receiver Kelvin Harmon definitely has upside, but more big play ability is needed from a WR#2. The depth after that isn’t much to speak of with Trey Quinn, Cam Sims, Darvin Kidsy and recently signed Cody Latimer.
One thing is clear in Washington; QB Dwayne Haskins needs more weapons after the Redskins failed to land a blue-chip receiver in free agency. It’s been well documented that HC Ron Rivera was all in for signing Amari Cooper, but the receiver ultimately decided to return to Dallas. So where does that leave Washington? They’ll no doubt invest a top 100 pick on a WR in the draft, but adding another pass catcher late on Day 3 is likely. Ernest Edwards IV would be a plug and play KR as a rookie for the Redskins with the potential to make a bid for playing time at receiver. The Maine receiver is a high character prospect and an elite kick returner, with tremendous upside to immediately be an effective role player for Washington if selected late on Day 3 or as an UDFA.
By Adam Aniba
Follow on Twitter @TheBandGreport and follow Earnest Edwards IV @EdwardsEarnest
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