The term “can’t-miss” is a cliche used all the time in sports, particularly for prospects entering the professional level from the collegiate ranks. Such a thing doesn’t really exist, but especially in the NFL, there are players who often feel like they’re incredibly likely to put together strong careers at the next level.
The 2023 NFL Draft prospect who best fits that cliche is Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson.
The top-rated prospect on my board, Anderson is the two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Awards for best defensive player in the country in 2022, and was a consensus All-American in each of the past two seasons.
Will Anderson’s strengths
Anderson’s quickness off the snap is tremendous. Not only does he time his jump well, but he’s very fast in his first step and has the pure speed needed to wreak absolute havoc in opposing backfields. When Anderson beats you with speed off the snap, it’s game over. He’s a flexible athlete who turns the corner very well and does a great job of getting low on outside speed rushes. His mobility in space and closing speed makes him a dangerous tackler in the open field, too.
Not only is Anderson super explosive, but he maximizes it with how hard he plays. He has a very high playing speed, and his motor is also apparent in his hand activity, as he stacks and sheds blocks well and strings together moves to get into the backfield. He has a deep arsenal of techniques like shucks, swipes, rips, ghost moves, and swims that he uses to get into opposing backfields and generate pressure.
It helps that Anderson has proven himself against current and future NFL talent, too. In his three seasons at Alabama, he dominated to the tune of 34.5 total sacks and 58.5 tackles for a loss. Statistical production is far from the end-all, be-all when evaluating a prospect, but when you put up those numbers in a powerful conference like the SEC, NFL teams can’t help but take notice.
Will Anderson’s weaknesses
Anderson is a bit light for an edge rusher, so he might struggle a little bit setting the edge in the run game in the NFL. He’s far from weak, but he occasionally struggled with power at Alabama, which could continue at the next level if he doesn’t add some more weight to his frame. A player of his caliber typically transcends scheme, but it’s clear he offers more immediate value as a stand-up edge rusher in a base 3-4 system. That’s not to say he couldn’t thrive with his hand in the dirt, but it would benefit him to bulk up a bit more in the pros.
Will Anderson highlights
Will Anderson’s 2023 NFL Combine results
Anderson came away from the NFL Scouting Combine with a 4.60 40-yard dash and a 1.61 10-yard split. He did not partake in other forms of athletic testing, however. Because of this, he did not qualify for a Relative Athletic Score, though his speed testing finished well above-average among edge rushers.
Some of Anderson’s athletic profile comparisons on Mockdraftable include Kayvon Thibodeaux and Justin Smith.
What others are saying about Will Anderson
Lance Zierlein of NFL.com had the following to say about Anderson:
Three-year starter for vaunted Alabama program with eye-popping production that encapsulates his potential impact. Anderson is well-built with long arms. He has the rush get-off and skill level to consistently shave edges or pry open rush paths with inside moves. Even when he’s blocked around the arc or on the diagonal, Anderson’s footwork, cornering and closing speed help him dive into the pocket. There is room for more growth with hand usage and he will need to prove he can keep racking up the sack totals outside of Nick Saban’s scheme. Anderson is suited to a 3-4 front, where he can play wider to better allow his length to overcome size deficiencies at the point of attack. His traits, athleticism and production against high-level competition are indicators of a Pro Bowl future.
There’s no denying Anderson’s production at Alabama was spectacular, and it seems likely he ends up at least a top-5 pick in the 2023 draft. Exactly where he lands will depend on how the quarterback market shapes up early in Round 1, but he seems like a strong bet to be the first non-quarterback selected this year.