Eagles' thumping linebacker lands on list of most important players


Over the next few weeks leading up to training camp, we’ll be counting down the top 25 most important Eagles for the 2022 season.

25. Quez Watkins
24. Gardner Minshew
23. T.J. Edwards

T.J. Edwards might have saved the Eagles’ season in 2021.

OK, maybe that’s going a little too far. But it’s hard to overstate just how important Edwards was to the Eagles’ second-half turnaround last season, how much he ended up meaning to Jonathan Gannon’s defense down the stretch.

Early in the 2021 season, while Edwards was starting some games, he wasn’t playing all that much. But in the second half of the season, when Edwards barely left the field, the Eagles’ defense looked completely different. Sure, there were other factors involved — most importantly that the schedule got easier — but the other biggest change was Edwards’ presence on the field. It meant a lot to their defense.

In the first eight games of the season, Edwards played 36.8% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. In the next eight games, he played 94.9% of their defensive snaps. The Eagles were 3-5 in their first 8 and 6-2 in their next eight.

Excluding the meaningless regular season finale, in which Edwards was inactive, here’s a look at how the Eagles’ defense fared:

First eight games: Allowed 344.0 yards per game (10th in NFL), 123.5 rushing yards per game (23rd), 220.6 passing yards per game (9th), 23.9 points (16th).

Next eight games: 295.3 yards per game (6th in NFL), 84.4 rushing yards per game (4th), 210.9 passing yards per game (14th), 17.9 points per game (7th).

He ended the season as ProFootballFocus’s 10th-best linebacker in 2021 and was given an extension for the 2022 season.

Edwards added a layer of toughness to the Eagles’ defense they had been missing. Defensive coordinator even handed over the green helmet dot to Edwards.

“I do think that it's a calming effect for the defense to have one signal caller, and when you play a lot of packages, as we do, that can get challenging at times. But he's really settled in,” Gannon said in the second half of last season. “He's the green dot and he makes all the front mechanic calls with the front. I mean, he's making the back end calls with the back end guys, and he's just a really good communicator.

“You hear me talking about being emotionally stable. He's one of those guys that every once in a while I'll juice him in his ear and he just gives me a thumbs up. ‘I got you, Coach.’ Or, ‘TJ, get this done.’ ‘I got you, Coach,’ and then a call comes in. He's been a joy to be around. He's smart, tough, physical. He's what we look for in the MIKE position and he's playing well.”

After all that, why doesn’t Edwards even make the top 20?

Well, the Eagles have made some great strides to improve the position this offseason and now, all of a sudden, Edwards finds himself in a pretty crowded linebacker room. Kyzir White and Nakobe Dean are both going to play an awful lot this year and it’ll be up to Gannon to figure out how to use all three and Davion Taylor too.

Edwards doesn't seem concerned.

“The more depth you have, the more pieces you have, the more you can do," he said this spring. "We’ve brought in some really good additions, guys that have really played football at a high level, so I think it just adds more to what we can do. 

“So you look at that and you look at it as competition and everybody’s going to get better from that, really.”

Still, it’s hard to imagine Edwards playing over 90% of the defensive snaps like he did in the second half of last season but he shouldn’t be forgotten either. Edwards might never become a Pro Bowler in the NFL but he’s carved out quite a career as an undrafted rookie from Wisconsin.

And he’s proven himself as a dependable, instinctive linebacker who deserves a role. He will have one again in 2022.

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