This almost feels a little bit silly; I have decided to pen an ‘introducing’ article about a player who shouldn’t need an introduction.
He is the current Bronko Nagurski award holder, reigning SEC Defensive Player of the year, he was a unanimous first team All-American in 2021, the list goes on… And in around 10 months’ time, on April 27th 2023, he could be the first overall selection of the NFL Draft.
Would it be crazy to think of him as a Heisman candidate at this point?
Perhaps that is a step too far considering how weighted that award is towards offensive players but in the truest sense of the award, I don’t think it would be crazy to say that Will Anderson Jr. is the best player in college football next season.
Being a guy who likes to talk about defense and pass rushers in particular, I thought of no better place to start my 2023 draft cycle right at the very pinnacle of it. So let’s take it back to the start for a moment…
Anderson was a 5-star recruit to Alabama in the class of 2020, the #1 weakside defensive end and #4 player in Georgia, coming in at the #17 overall prospect in the class. The pedigree was clear from the beginning and over the course of two seasons playing for the Crimson Tide, he’s more than backed it up with production, having compiled 41.5 tackles for a loss and 24.5 sacks across 28 career appearances.
The Dutchtown High School product led the college football ranks with 17.5 sacks last season, as a Sophomore… so what makes him so special?
Anderson lines up in the Jack linebacker position in Alabama’s defense which means he’s lining up on the weakside of the formation, most often rushing from a two-point stance. This makes Anderson the designated rusher on the team by design, which allows the best quarterback hunter in college football to do what he does best.
Perhaps the biggest thing that jumps off the screen when you turn on the tape in Anderson’s insane first step explosion. There are plays where you assume that he must have jumped the gun, because he’s out of the blocks so quickly. The example below is from the SEC Championship against eventual National Champions, Georgia.
This rep comes against Jamaree Salyer, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers this Spring. Salyer isn’t even an average athlete for a tackle, and will play guard in the NFL, but as a player he’s no slouch, even if it is a physical mismatch. Nonetheless, Anderson breezes past his opponent, turns the corner to flatten the arc, rips his left arm through to free himself from the tackle and sacks Stetson Bennett with his other arm, and it’s all completed in what feels like one continuous motion. Perfection.
There’s more to his game than just speed as well, at 243lb he possesses a good amount of power – this clip shows him uprooting an Ole Miss guard before taking down Matt Corral.
I love how the alignment allows Anderson to start the rep from a four-point stance and therefore accentuate his power with the natural leverage that his starting position gives him.
At 6”4 and 243lbs he’s not a thick, heavy pass rusher either. So the power that he shows here to knock a guard off his spot and dispose of him to the side when giving up around 60lbs in weight to his opponent is incredibly impressive, and something that high-end, NFL calibre pass rushers do.
To me, this is exactly what Will Anderson is one the verge of becoming, and I cannot wait to see the final stages of his college development happen right in front of us in just a few short month’s time.
By Lee Wakefield – @wakefield90