FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Being selfish isn’t in T.J. Edwards’ nature. The Wisconsin linebacker isn’t a big fan of talking about himself, and that’s made the last month or so a bit difficult considering almost every session with the media includes questions about his future — will he return for his senior year or make himself available for the 2018 NFL Draft? Those questions came up again Thursday morning in advance of the Badgers taking on Miami in the Orange Bowl.
“It’s hard for me to be selfish and think about me in an important time like this. I want to focus…on this week only,” Edwards said. “It’s exciting time to think about things like [the NFL], but at the end of the day, we’ve got a very big game at hand.”
They do. Wisconsin is trying to get win No. 13, which would be the most in school history, and potentially finish in the top-5 of the AP Top 25 rankings for the first time since 1999.
Yet, it’s impossible to ignore the decision Edwards and several other teammates are debating a little less than three weeks before the deadline to declare. And while Edwards says he’s trying not to focus on it, he’s certainly put time into it, even talking with former Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt, who bypassed his senior year and was a late first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers last April.
“He’s been very huge for me, just [telling me to go with] your gut feeling and [about] doing what’s best for you and your family,” Edwards said of Watt’s advice. “You have to make that decision for you. Like I said before, it’s very weird for me to be selfish and think about me. It’s been tough, but it’s awesome to even be able to think about the NFL, so I’ll take it.”
Edwards, like most underclassmen, submitted his paperwork to the draft advisory committee, which conducts research on a player and determines whether he’s a first-round pick, second-round pick or that he should go back to school. For Edwards, who was a finalist for the Butkus Award (best linebacker) and a first-team All-Big Ten selection, it was the latter.
“I didn’t expect to get a first- or second-round grade to be honest with you,” Edwards said. “I think the biggest thing is everyone is just questioning my speed. That’s kind of the biggest thing I’ve heard. They want to see me run and things like that.”
But it’s not just the draft advisory committee Edwards is relying on. Wisconsin’s coaching staff, including head coach Paul Chryst, have connections throughout the NFL and are able to get opinions they trust on players like Edwards.
“Coach Chryst has been really good with all of us,” Edwards said. “Conversations with me, just giving me very good information. I think he’s a guy that truly cares about us. I don’t think he would ever lead us astray.”
There also has to be, somewhere in the decision making process, a little voice inside Edwards’ head that is reminding him what happened the last two years to one of his best friends on the team — fellow linebacker Jack Cichy. A pair of season-ending injuries led to his draft stock plummeting, and he’ll likely have to fight for a job as an undrafted free agent next season.
“It’s definitely a huge thing that goes into it,” said Edwards, who missed most of fall camp in 2015 with a foot injury and missed all of fall camp and the first game of 2016 after breaking his foot. “It’s a reality. You put that into your brain and take that into account as well.”
No matter what, the decision, which Edwards hopes to make quickly after the Orange Bowl, is one that will have come with intense research and plenty of soul searching over all the different factors in play.
“That’s the hard part,” Edwards said. “That’s why I’m saying I’m still on the fence just because there are so many things that go into it. It’s kind of tough.”