What Will Bryan Edwards' Role Be Week 1? Is He Ready For It?

Photo: © Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Few rookies have had camps this season quite like the one Bryan Edwards is putting out in Las Vegas. 

Edwards’ performance has been the talk of the town since practices went live for the Raiders, and his performance has elicited both crazy quotes and subsequent musings from the media. Just two weeks ago, Edwards’ versatility in camp was folded into a quote about Henry Ruggs III starting in the slot, which led to consternation around Hunter Renfrow’s role in the offense, and I wrote about how the offense was going to distribute snaps accordingly.

In that article, here was my conclusion.

The simple reality is this: the Raiders have a second-year Day 3 pick, a veteran with proven versatility who hasn’t yet found a home on this squad, and two rookies. One rookie had a relatively predictable alignment in Alabama, but was also playing with more first-round receivers than you can count, and proved across multiple seasons of film that he could line up everywhere; the other actually did line up everywhere as the premier talent on South Carolina’s receiving corps after Deebo Samuel’s departure. Beside Renfrow’s quality slot performance, nothing is known about this team, let alone cemented.

That veteran I brought up? Tyrell Williams, for whom many had hope for in 2019, but generally disappointed in his starting role for the Raiders. He was likely still a Week 1 starter, but if he continued to disappoint, could have seen his snaps reduced for Ruggs or Edwards. That process may have been accelerated, however, as Williams’ Week 1 status is now in jeopardy.

Following the news, it was assumed that Williams’ starting reps in camp were going to Edwards—and they did. As Tashan Reed of The Athletic said on the State of the Nation podcast earlier this week, Edwards ran with the ones during practice, and Reed believes that the Raiders haven’t publicly vocalized their comfort starting him in Week 1 over Williams is because Gruden may not want to tip his hand regarding how big of a player Edwards can be for them in Year 1.

Is Edwards really ready for a starting gig at X receiver? Because that’s what we’re talking about here. It’s considered a critical role in most offenses, where often the most talented wide receiver plays and deals with opponents’ top cornerbacks in press coverage. That was an area in which Edwards struggled on his college film, where I hoped he’d have more time to develop. This, from my report on Edwards pre-draft:

Release: Again, has the tools but lacks the product. Has wins with foot speed, hand swipe, jab steps and head fakes—but when a hand lands on him, he struggles. Does not reduce surface area or use significant length/size advantage to fight pressure with pressure and maintain the red line. Upright out of his stance at the line of scrimmage and will close the gap unnecessarily when he's given a soft press option. Sometimes elects peculiar release paths given eventual route direction—makes life harder on himself. Must be protected early in his career, but has a high ceiling given physical tools.

This leans into the versatility to which the Raiders have been alluding—Edwards was most likely to produce in Year 1, given my pre-draft opinion, if he was moved around the formation and allowed to get schemed touches in space. I projected Edwards as a WR3/4 with rotational usage in Year 1, and that was the hope the Raiders seemingly had for him up to this point. Now, they want more from him—and I’m unconvinced that he can deliver on that in a calcified X -receiver role.

The good news is that the X-receiver role isn’t really that critical for the Raiders’ offense overall. As Mike Renner wrote for PFF when he detailed Edwards’ potential for the X-receiver job, Carr “targeted split wide receivers 160 times all season, 25th among all quarterbacks in the NFL. Heck, Williams himself saw only 4.3 targets per game when healthy last season.” 

Remember, Carr put up his best numbers last season, and while the Raiders offense wasn’t anywhere near worldbeating, it was functional. The Raiders don’t need a quality X receiver to move the ball down the field—shoutout to Darren Waller—so they won’t have a ton of pressure on Edwards to perform quickly in that role.

Furthermore, if the starting three is Ruggs/Edwards/Renfrow, then there will be opportunities for Edwards and Ruggs to switch alignments and fill the second slot when Waller aligns outside. Edwards won’t be a strict X receiver even if he starts in that role for Williams, and will be the second receiver getting schemed touches behind Ruggs (not sure what to call Lynn Bowden here). Those touches will help protect him from press and unlock his playmaking, his best trait.

Edwards was going to be a part of the offense in Week 1 with a healthy Williams, and he’s going to be a bigger part without him. If he’s cordoned off at the X role, it will be to his disadvantage, but neither he nor Ruggs are perfect for that role right now—and someone has to do it. Given how much excitement the Raiders’ coaching staff already has for his performance, why not throw him out there?