Virtually everyone around the NFL is aware of the production the New Orleans Saints received from its 2017 draft class.
Cornerback Marshon Lattimore, running back Alvin Kamara, free safety Marcus Williams, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk and defensive end Trey Hendrickson certainly command the spotlight.
Flying under the radar, however, are a pair of undrafted rookie free-agent signings in running back Trey Edmunds and cornerback Justin Hardee.
While they haven’t made a mark on offense or defense, the contributions from Edmunds and Hardee as core members on special teams should not be ignored.
“Those are two players that have played a lot of snaps and I’d agree with you,” coach Sean Payton said. “There is a value if they can get on the field and play the kicking game.
“We say it every year and you give that speech to the rookie class, the first way to make this team is through the kicking game and special team units and those guys have certainly done that.”
The 6-foot-2, 223-pound Edmunds, who joined the Saints in May 2017 after a successful tryout in rookie minicamp, finished the 2017 regular season with the second-most snaps on special teams (285) and ranked third in special teams tackles (7).
He recalls Payton’s message and fully embraced it throughout the summer months leading to the regular season.
“I knew that was going to be my potential route to get in this league anyway,” Edmunds said. “I wasn’t blind to that fact; I wasn’t ignorant to that fact.
“But just hearing it from him — the guy responsible making the roster decisions and deciding who’s on this team or not — it was just a little more clarity and a little satisfaction in really what I wanted to hear.”
Edmunds spent three collegiate years at Virginia Tech before transferring to Maryland, and playing on special teams came naturally when considering his ties to former Hokies head coach Frank Beamer.
“I started my collegiate career at Virginia Tech and we all know Beamer Ball, the heavy emphasis they put on special teams,” Edmunds said. “I’ve kind of been rooted in special teams where you have to acknowledge it.”
Virginia Tech also originally recruited Edmunds as a linebacker before converting him to running back, but playing on special teams allows the rookie to unleash his defensive side.
“I like getting pumped up and going down there, making tackles on kickoffs and blocking for returns,” Edmunds said. “I actually like that stuff.”
Hardee also relishes playing on special teams after entering the league out of Illinois, where he converted from a high school cornerback to college wide receiver, with the Houston Texans.
The Texans waived Hardee before the start of the regular season, and he joined the Saints’ practice squad on Sept. 7. The Saints returned Hardee to defensive back, and then elevated him to the active roster in Week 3.
Hardee has proven a special teams standout ever since.
“I knew that was going to be my way,” Hardee said. “So,…