As one of the top players in the Class of 2020, Drew Sanders was a highly decorated five-star athlete. His career arc at Alabama was going to be epic, and there were very high hopes. Unfortunately, in his first two seasons at Tuscaloosa, Sanders rarely saw the field. A transfer to Arkansas and the change of scenery is what he needed, and he declared for the Draft after a phenomenal 2022 season for the Razorbacks.
- College: Arkansas
- Height: 6’5”
- Weight: 235 lbs.
- Age: 21 yrs. (December 31, 2001)
- Year: Junior
- Draft Projection: Second or Third Round, Day Two
Sanders hails from Denton, Texas, and saw time at QB, TE, WR, and multiple defensive positions while in high school. He was recruited as an EDGE player, and it’s obvious why his explosion and disruptive play at that position were elite. Sanders was the 22nd-ranked player overall in the 247Sports Composite. He received offers from many big schools, including Notre Dame, Georgia, LSU, and Oklahoma. Sanders committed to Alabama and began his career with the Tide.
As a freshman, Sanders received snaps mostly on special teams and on obvious pass-rushing downs. He started a few games for Alabama as a sophomore, on the EDGE, but injuries limited what he could do. Sanders took his talents to Arkansas, and it was there that his career took off.
As a junior, the Razorbacks moved Sanders to off-the-ball linebacker, and it was like Sanders was finally unleashed. He tallied 103 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, five passes defended, three forced fumbles, and an interception. Sanders flourished in his new role and was all over the field, making plays and a huge impact, one we had been hoping to see.
Prototype Size and Athleticism
If you told scientists to design a linebacker built for today’s NFL, it would come out of the lab looking like Drew Sanders. The only drawback in his physical profile is, at his height, he could add 15 pounds to have a solid frame.
Sanders has the height, speed, range, and instincts teams covet, and his game came along this past season. We saw the athleticism in the range he covered. Arkansas moved him off the ball, and Sanders has the speed to cover running backs and tight ends. He covers a lot of ground and is rarely out of a play due to it.
#Arkansas Drew Sanders has the most upside in this year’s LB class. If DeMeco Ryans got his hands on him…— Jordan Pun (@Texans_Thoughts) February 4, 2023
5 ⭐️ recruit, #1 ranked athlete
EDGE at Bama, transferred in 2022, played EDGE+LB
2022: 103 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, 3 FFs, 5 PBUs
In these plays, we see the speed. Sanders bursts through a hole to make a sack, then tracks down a receiver halfway across the field and causes a turnover, and finally, we see the ability to help in zone coverage and punish the receiver as he catches the ball.
Because of his athletic ability, Sanders is able to be used in many roles. He can get bend around an edge in a pass rush or can use the speed to pass rush too. Sanders can camp in the middle of the field, and his instincts make him valuable in pass coverage zones and man-to-man. He will be a three-down linebacker and asked to do many things, as the Cowboys use Micah Parsons. Sanders has a way to go to be as good as Parsons, but the talent is there.
Watching ARK LB Drew Sanders, he has rare traits that make him a legitimate EDGE prospect, not just an off ball LB. Look at the bend and the ability to locate the ball and knock it loose. It’s going to be real interesting how he is used at the next level. #NFLDraft2023 pic.twitter.com/L66IHI9HqS— Between Two Tackles (@2Tackles) January 27, 2023
The biggest step he took forward in 2022 was trusting his instincts. He’s never out of a play, and he recognizes things so quickly, then reacts and makes plays. Often, they are disruptive, leading to turnovers or big losses. Sanders’ instincts allow his teammates to be better. He’s a leader and elevates the entire defense.
Drew Sanders reading the RPO action and getting into the passing lane for the pick. Pretty nifty play. pic.twitter.com/n2XkB5Ho7l— Derrick (@Steelers_DB) February 19, 2023
These instincts can’t be taught. His understanding of the game is evident, and he’s a cerebral player. This play is incredible when you understand how much else he does and everything he could do. Sanders is patient when needed. Earlier in his career, he flew around and overpursued a lot, as his understanding of the game grew.
There is a bunch of tape of Sanders making big hits, and he can lay the wood with the best of them. There were still times when his motor led him out of position, and he would miss a tackle due to it. He was credited with 22 missed tackles in his career, a tad bit alarming number. It got better this season, but it’s still an area Sanders will need to work on.
If he’s asked to play more in the box, the playing strength will need to be addressed. Sanders would get lost in traffic at times, have trouble sifting through traffic, and shed a block when engaged. As mentioned in the first strength, his size is good, but he could add weight to his frame. He’s a bit slender for 6’5”.
Finally, Sanders is still raw. He was recruited as an EDGE and has only played one season as an off-the-ball linebacker. While he looked phenomenal at times, his position is one he is still learning.
The Wrap Up
If Sanders had another season of tape at off-the-ball linebacker, I think we would be discussing him as an early first-round talent. He was finally realizing his potential, and the tape on Sanders in 2022 is super-impressive. Sanders can do everything a modern linebacker is asked, and his ceiling is higher than Snoop Dogg.
From an IDP standpoint, I am comfortable drafting Sanders as one of the first five or six IDP rookies. With the right landing spot, I would even consider him in the top three. He’s going to rake in tackles, make big plays like sacks and forced fumbles, and could be an LB2 early in his career.
Draft Sanders confidently in rookie drafts, and I expect him to be drafted in round two of the Draft in April. His ceiling is high, almost as high as Trenton Simpson’s, and he has a high floor also.
Did you hear the big news? The Dynasty Nerds YouTube channel is up and running. Now you can see the podcast straight from the NerdHQ!! Smash that subscribe button. Sign up for the DynastyGM tool to keep that edge over your league mates. Manage all of your dynasty teams, use the trade calculator, and we just added a player shares tool so you can see all players you roster in one place.