Understanding just how incredibly smart Edwards is


T.J. Edwards is playing the best football of his life. That's obvious to anybody who's paying attention.

Ten weeks into the season, Pro Football Focus ranks him third among all NFL linebackers with an 83.1 grade, up from 66.5 in 2020 and 75.5 last year.

What’s gone into that?

We can all see that he’s fast, tough, athletic and physical. Then there’s the T.J. Edwards that isn’t instantly apparent.

His intelligence.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon spoke at length Tuesday about what really makes the Eagles’ fourth-year middle linebacker special.

“You guys know, in our defense, that's a thinking position, and he's as smart as they come,” Gannon said. “He's got a really good skill set paired with a really good brain, and he plays extremely fast. 

“You hear the head coach talk about accelerated vision? He has it. He’s calling things out before they even come, and that's part of the work by the coaches, with coach (Nick) Rallis, but that's a lot of film study by him. He's football 24/7. You need to be that way if you're going to be elite in this league.”

Edwards entered the NFL as a long-shot undrafted special teamer and has gradually worked his way up from situational linebacker to budding star.

He’s improved each year he’s been here, but he’s really made an enormous jump this year. After playing 64 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps last year in Gannon’s linebacker rotation, he’s played 96 percent this year, which would be the most snaps by any Eagles linebacker since Nigel Bradham played 97.1 percent of the snaps in 2016.

“I used to work for a guy, he's the DB coach in Green Bay right now, Jerry Gray,” Gannon said. “He’d say ‘The NFL is an open-book test, and the guys that study the most (are most successful).’ And it goes into what our head coach says, that accelerated vision. 

“There's plays out there to be had when you're anticipating certain things, but you can only do that by your prep. That goes six days through the week, and T.J. takes that to heart, and he does that for us and helps a lot of other guys on the defense around him because of his brain and his knowledge.”

Edwards was always a thumper. Edwards’ biggest improvement has come in coverage, and the growth he’s shown in that area allows Gannon to keep him on the field all the time. 

He’s gone from a 63.6 grade in coverage in 2020 to 68.9 last year to 77.2 this year, 10th-best among all linebackers according to PFF. 

Edwards wears the green-dot helmet that keeps him in contact with Gannon, and he’s the defensive coaches’ eyes and ears on the field.

“He runs the entire front,” Gannon said. “We do some different things that people don't do to try to get in advantageous positions, and hopefully we set it up right. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but that's on his plate. 

“The back-seven (alignment) mechanics, that's on his plate, along with the secondary, but he's tied into all that. He's the guy in the middle and he's the guy that I'm yelling at during the series in his ear because he's got the green dot. 

“He's talking to the defense. He's very emotionally stable, and then when that ball is snapped, he's violent, and that's what you're looking for.”

Contact Us