He dazzled fans and amazed opponents for four years as a quarterback in college with his combination of passing and elusive breakaway speed. After he graduated from college, many NFL scouts recommended to him that he switch positions. They said that with his speed and quickness, he could transition into a difference making wide receiver and kick returner, but doubted that he could ever be a successful quarterback in the NFL.
We know Pat White's story: he was the first quarterback to lead his team to victory in four bowl games. He carved up defenses for four years in Morgantown and is who many Mountaineer fans believe is the best player to ever wear the Gold n' Blue.
But who is Armanti Edwards? Why compare him to Pat White? I'll explain the comparison and tell you how their paths to the NFL are similar and where one choice, when presented with the option, made by each player resulted in divergent career paths.
Armanti Edwards is a wide reciever/ kick returner for the Carolina Panthers in his second season. I watched the N.Y. Giants/ Panthers game on Saturday night. Edwards played sparingly in his first season as a Panther (more on that below) and was known for his tentativeness for returning punts. In the game on Saturday night, Edwards had two dazzling punt returns that got the sold-out Panthers crowd energized. He averaged 23 yards on those two returns. He also caught one pass for 31 yards. As I watched Edwards run through the Giants defense on the kick returns and get targeted by Jimmy Clausen and Cam Newton on multiple plays, I couldn't help but wonder couldn't Pat White do that? Why isn't Pat White on an NFL roster?
I came up with a solution using the path Armanti Edwards' career has taken to demonstrate how Pat White could still play in the NFL.
You may remember Armanti Edwards from Appalachian State's 34-32 upset victory over Michigan at the Big House in 2007. He also led App. St. to the FCS Championship two years in a row in 2006 and 2007. He is the only player to receive the Walter Payton Award, given out to the FCS's most outstanding offensive player, twice. He passed for over 10,000 yards and rushed for over 4,000 in his four-year career.
While White had about 500 more career rushing yards than Edwards, Edwards had about 4,000 more passing yards than White. Yes, for the most part,Edwards accomplished that against lesser quality opponents than what White faced for most of his WVU career. I'll give you that. But, if you ever watched Edwards play in college, like I did several times where I live, he did seem like a very similar player to White in terms of athleticism and being able to change the course of a game on one play. White and Edwards were both noted by NFL scouts to be a little undersized and not accurate enough to be an NFL quarterback. They both played in a spread style offense in college and rarely took snaps from under center, which is makes for a difficult transition to a Pro-Style offense in the NFL.
At the NFL Combine in 2009, Pat White led all quarterbacks at his position in the 40-yard dash (4.55) and vertical jump (35") while also being a top performer in the broad jump (9'9"). Armanti Edwards did not participate in the Combine last year, but still had an NFL Pro-Day. He ran a 4.41 40-yard dash, had a 34 1/2" vertical leap, and had a 10'3" broad jump. Edwards is 5'11" 185lbs and White is 6'0" 197lbs. So physically, they're very similar.
White was a 2nd round Draft pick by the Miami Dolphins in 2009 and Edwards was a 3rd round pick by the Panthers last season (although the Panthers gave up their 2nd round pick this year to draft Edwards).
In his first season, White played sparingly for the Dolphins. He did not complete a pass during the regular season and was waived by the Dolphins prior to the start of last season. Unable to find work as a quarterback in the NFL, White signed a minor-league contract with the K.C. Royals and played in their Developmental League in Arizona during the winter. He was promoted to the Burlington Royals in January but retired from baseball before Spring Training got underway. He signed with the Virginia Destroyers of the UFL in June and is expecting to report to camp next week.
When the Panthers drafted Edwards, they did so without the blessing of John Fox, who was in the final year of his contract. The Panthers front office knew they were going in a different coaching direction at the end of the season and Marty Hurney and Co. weren't interested in drafting players to fit the John Fox Mold by that time. So Fox was stuck with a project in Edwards who was not going to be a quarterback and had not played receiver since he was a sophomore in high school. When Edwards showed an inability to hang on to football while fielding punts, Edwards found a place sitting on the Panthers' bench for most of the season. He only appeared in two games and had 7 yards on one rush to go along with two punt returns.
In their first respective seasons in the NFL, neither White nor Edwards played much. White couldn't beat out Chad Henne and Chad Pennington for the starting quarterback spot, and Edwards couldn't escape Fox's disapproval of the Panthers' drafting of him.
So where do Edwards and White differ, and how did Edwards have Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte loudly cheering for him on Saturday night while White will be fighting again to play quarterback in the UFL? And, how has Armanti Edwards made a blueprint for Pat White to follow to get back into the NFL?
The simple answer is a willingness to switch positions.
When Edwards was told he wasn't going to play quarterback in the NFL, he accepted that and asked what he had to do to make it. When White was told by most teams that he wasn't going to make it as a quarterback in the NFL, he asked which teams would let him play QB. White has shown a propensity in his life to want to play quarterback no matter what coaches tell him. Why did he pick West Virginia over LSU? Because Rich Rodriguez told White he could play quarterback. LSU head coach, Les Miles, wanted to switch White to safety. White went with his heart, we as WVU fans love him for it, and chose WVU.
So back to last Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium where Armanti Edwards had 64,000 fans cheering for him after two impressive punt returns. For Panthers fans, seeing Edwards successfully returning kicks was very satisfying and certainly a step in the right direction. On TV, the radio, and in the newspapers in Charlotte over the past year, many people questioned the drafting of Edwards as high as the Panthers did giving up for him what they did. Many had already declared him a bust.
"Last year was one of the low points in my football career," Edwards said. "You're going to come across that at some point in time and I came across it last year and had to learn how to deal with it. I'm kind of quiet and kept to myself, didn't blame anybody but myself and dealt with it that way.
"It means a lot to put that first year behind me and it's done and over with. Now I know what to expect coming into this year and I tried to work extra hard in the offseason."
So, how did Edwards "work extra hard" do to get back in Panthers' favor? He practiced. He trained. He worked hard during the Lockout to improve on his catching, route running, and punt catching. He asked former Pro-Bowler, Mushin Mohammed, to teach him how to be a WR. He asked current Panthers' punter, Jeff Baker, to help him field punts, which he had never done before last season. During camps and practices thus far, Edwards has shown increased knowledge in the nuances of route-running and catching the football that he did not display last season.
The game against the Giants last Saturday was only one game for Edwards, but it was a definite step in the right direction.
After signing with the Destroyers, White finally said that he would be open to playing something other than quarterback. His new team already has an established quarterback, and if White wants to see the field often, then he doesn't have much of a choice. His new head coach, Marty Schottenheimer, would like to use White in much the same way that the Panthers and new head coach, Ron Rivera, uses Edwards.
White has the athleticism to play in the NFL. He may not have what it takes to play quarterback at that level, and if his dream is to play on an NFL team again, he would be wise to follow the example set by Armanti Edwards.