FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Bryan Edwards fully expected to play the 2022 season in silver and black. The 23-year-old receiver had two years left on his rookie deal with the Raiders, made improvements from his first and second professional seasons with optimism the next year would be his best yet.
Then came a May 16 phone call breaking news he was leaving Las Vegas. The Falcons traded a 2023 fifth-round pick for Edwards and a seventh, bringing him a lot closer to home, life-changing info that hit Edwards flat-footed.
"I did not know a trade was coming. It kind of caught me off guard," Edwards said Thursday in his first comments since the trade. "My head was spinning for a while. Once I grasped the idea I was coming back to the right side of the country, it felt good."
The right side of the country. If we're enjoying some word play, it's a statement both geographically accurate and preferable for a Conway, S.C. and University of South Carolina product who now plays a drive, not a flight, away from home.
Initial shock eventually gave way to a more a logical line of thinking, one that made Edwards realize this might be a golden opportunity to be a top target in a scheme that truly fits.
"I knew [head coach/offensive play caller Arthur Smith] likes bigger receivers and they run a lot of in-breaking routes where guys can get the YAC and make big plays off of it," Edwards said. "When I heard I was coming here, I thought it was a really good fit, about as good as it can get."
On the first day of OTAs, the team puts in work on the field and in the gym.
There's great confidence Edwards can thrive in this new opportunity, both from those in new organization and his old one. Raiders Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller had high praise for Edwards as a player and someone who should adjust well to a surprise development. Waller knows something about that, turning his career around after the Raiders signed him off Baltimore's practice squad.
"I really like Bryan a lot just as a human being and as a football player," Waller said in an interview with heavy.com. "Contested-catch ability is elite, and I feel like he can only continue to grow as a player as he gets more and more opportunities – you see it in the games where he got opportunities.
"A change of scenery – it can be one of the best things that can ever happen to you. It's not necessarily about what happens along the journey, it's more so about your response to what happens. And I feel like he's somebody that is mentally and physically capable of responding in a big way, and I'm excited to follow his career and see how it unfolds because I think great things are in store for him."
That will be the case if he continued an upward NFL ascent. Edwards make strides in his second professional season, tallying 571 yards (16.8 ypc) and three touchdowns on 34 catches. He'll have plenty of opportunities in the Falcons offense, which also features Kyle Pitts, Cordarrelle Patterson and No. 8 overall NFL Draft pick Drake London.
"He's a guy we think will come in and compete, certainly a guy who can help us," Smith said. "He can win outside one-on-one and can be effective in traffic, inside the numbers."
Edwards says he's ready to recalibrate to a more physical brand of football, a style he has the size and strength to execute.
"It's something I have to get back into the rhythm of," Edwards said. "I feel like I got away from it, being in Las Vegas. These guys, they play physical here. They like to get up and pressure. In this division they're going to get up on the line and play man-to-man. It'll be a lot of fun getting back to beating man-to-man, getting back to being the true receiver I am."
Edwards will also enjoy being closer to his roots, where he grew up and went to school.
"Anyone who is from the South can tell you that there's no place like it – the sweet tea, the community, country life, greenery, trees, the small things," Edwards said. "When you get into this profession, you learn to appreciate the small things in life. I'm just so happy to be home."