PITTSBURGH (AP) If Terrell Edmunds is being honest, he didn’t expect to hear his name called during the first round of the NFL draft.
And then the versatile safety from Virginia Tech’s phone rang on Thursday night. Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was on the other end.
Moments later Edmunds didn’t just hear his name called after Pittsburgh selected him with the 28th overall pick, he heard it from injured Pro Bowl linebacker Ryan Shazier after Shazier slowly but steadily walked onto the stage to hand the draft card with Edmunds’ name on it to commissioner Roger Goodell, Shazier’s first public steps since a spinal injury last December put his career in jeopardy.
There are far less memorable ways to begin your professional career.
”I was surprised, honestly” to be picked, Edmunds said. ”I’m ready. I’m telling you I’m ready.”
The AFC North champions need Edmunds to be if they want their latest attempt at overhauling the secondary to be a success. The Steelers cut safeties Mike Mitchell and Rob Golden in March and signed veteran Morgan Burnett as a stopgap.
Enter Edmunds, who has the size (6-foot-1, 217 pounds) and the speed (4.47 40-yard dash) to become a valuable contributor in a defensive backfield that includes Joe Haden, Artie Burns and Sean Davis.
While Edmunds might have been stunned by his selection, the Steelers were not. After all the top inside linebackers were taken – a spot of considerable need with Shazier already ruled out for 2018 – Pittsburgh wasted little time turn its attention to Edmunds.
”We felt this was the best player,” general manager Kevin Colbert said after the Steelers used a first-round pick on a safety for the first time since taking Troy Polamalu 16th in 2003. ”This was plain for us.”
Edmunds was taken 12 picks after Buffalo chose his younger brother Tremaine with the 16th selection.
”It’s a blessing for my family overall,” said Edmunds, whose father Ferrell made the Pro Bowl twice during his six-year NFL career as a tight end for Miami and Seattle. ”It didn’t matter where (Tremaine) went and I went.”
The Steelers were drawn to Edmunds’ ability to move around the field. Colbert pointed out there were times during Edmunds’ career at Virginia Tech he would flip from strong safety to free safety on the same play.
”We got a sharp, young versatile guy who’s a good communicator, who plays with physicality,” Colbert said. ”He checks all the boxes for us.”
Edmunds started 31 games in three seasons for the Hokies, collecting six interceptions while also developing a reputation as a sure tackler. His junior season in 2017 was cut short by a shoulder injury that required surgery, though Colbert said it won’t be an issue when he reports for organized team activities next month.
Colbert and Tomlin declined to get into specifics about Edmunds’ possible role. Edmunds doesn’t particularly care where he lines up.
”I just feel it’s wherever you put me, I’ll make a play for you,” he said.
Shortly before the Steelers took Edmunds, they sent mercurial wide receiver Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for a third-round pick.
The 26-year-old Bryant spent four uneven years in Pittsburgh, where his on-field brilliance was often offset by his struggle to stay clean. He scored 17 touchdowns in 36 career games, averaging 15.3 yards per catch. He was also suspended twice for running afoul of the league’s substance abuse policy and missed all of 2016 while getting his life in order.
The Steelers welcomed Bryant’s return with open arms last season, but he was slow to return to form and lost his spot as the second receiver on the depth chart behind All-Pro Antonio Brown taken by rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster. Bryant demanded a trade early in the year, was deactivated a game after a social media post expressing his frustration.
The 6-foot-4 Bryant was entering the final year of the rookie contract he signed after being taken in the fourth round in 2014 and with a new deal unlikely, Pittsburgh sent him west. It won’t be the last time the Steelers see Bryant. Pittsburgh visits Oakland on Dec. 9.
Colbert said repeatedly earlier in the offseason he wasn’t looking to move Bryant, though that didn’t stop teams from inquiring. He said he turned them all down until the Raiders offered the 79th overall pick, a boon for a team that doesn’t have a pick in the fourth or sixth rounds.
”We’ve got seven picks (now),” Colbert said. ”There’s plenty of good players left. I’m hopeful we can add more good players.”
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