Tremaine Edmunds is one of the most polarizing players on the roster. A majority of the fanbase believe he has not performed well during his tenure. Edmunds has often been subject to criticism as his impact on the game is not so simple that it will bounce off the box score.
Now let me preface this: Tremaine Edmunds is not an elite linebacker. He just is not. However, there is a lot of gray area between elite and not good. Edmunds finds himself somewhere in between. When evaluating Edmunds, it is important to understand the responsibility that he has in the Bills defense. The Bills ran a nickel defense 90.3% of the time this past season, generally having slot corner Taron Johnson in the lineup as opposed to another linebacker. With the lack of a true 1 tech DT, Edmunds primarily two gaps as a linebacker. Simply, he is responsible for occupying two gaps in the run game.
While this is not a world breaking ask of a linebacker, it is the explanation for the lack of “splash plays” that Edmunds makes (relative to expectations). Should he crash into one of his two gaps recklessly trying to make a tackle, he would then leave the other gap vacant; this goes directly against what is asked of him. It should also be noted that splash plays – or a lack thereof – are not an indicator of defensive success.
Stopping the Run
We all love seeing Matt Milano blow up a running back behind the line of scrimmage, but a player like Milano has more freedom to make those plays. The nickel package leaves the middle of the field vacated, and the reason we are able to successfully run a primarily nickel defense is because of the large frame and mobility of Tremaine Edmunds.
A major point of criticism is Edmunds’ ability to stop the run. There is a narrative among most of Bills Mafia that Edmunds struggles in the run game. The tweet below shows advanced numbers comparing Edmunds and his run stopping ability in comparison to some of the other linebackers in the league, including Matt Milano.
So what do these numbers mean? Well, for one, Edmunds is just outside the top 10 league wide in missed tackle rate, and tied for 19th in run stop percentage. His average depth of tackle is tied 18th but, remember, he is responsible for two gapping. His ability to “blow up runs” is severely limited. The role Edmunds serves is to guide the ball carrier into the strength of the defense. He is not on the field to do his best Arnold Schwarzenegger impression and terminate the ball carrier.
In the pass game, it should be noted that metrics used for grading coverage are flawed. If a QB goes through his progressions and checks the ball down and Edmunds makes a tackle after a four yard gain, Edmunds may receive a poor grade by some metrics. However, in that specific instance, the ideal play in the philosophy of the Bills defense is to encourage the QB to check down. This is not to say Edmunds is an elite coverage linebacker, because he is not. It is simply a note of the flaws in the grading systems. It does not tell the whole story.
Long story short, the Bills were the number one ranked passing defense in every category that matters. They thrived off of forcing teams to pass the ball and play catch-up to the short wearing stud wearing 17. Edmunds was responsible for the middle of the field on a majority of passing downs. The secondary is mostly responsible for this feat. However, the secondary could not do what they do without Edmunds. His impact in the pass game is not something that can truly be measured via fancy graphs or numbers.
Like every player in the league, there is plenty of room for criticizing Tremaine Edmunds. As a fan base, if we are going to criticize a player, we should at least understand what their job really is.