“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”― Henry Ford
Huddle up, Nerds! It’s that magical time of the year when we put the incoming rookie class under a fantasy microscope. As in the NFL, drafting well is a cornerstone of successful dynasty fantasy football. But fear not. Dynasty Nerds has you covered with a series of draft profiles bursting with scouting details guaranteed to have you sitting pretty for your pending rookie draft(s).
In this installment, we turn our eyes to the defensive side of the ball with one of the most highly regarded prospects of this draft class in edge rusher, Will Anderson. Averaging 11.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss per season at a powerhouse program, the Alabama junior has earned his reputation on the field.
With dominant pass rushers being held in high esteem across the league, Anderson is set to convert his pedigree of performance into a top-five selection in April’s NFL Draft. So, what are the traits that make him such a special talent? And has this promising 21-year-old already reached his lofty ceiling, or are there still areas for improvement?
You’ve come to the right place, my friend. Step into my office, and let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of Mr. Anderson.
What is There to Like?
Weighing in at 253 lbs. and measuring just a hair shy of 6’4″, Anderson has the body type of a long pass rusher. He utilizes this slight frame to excel at interior gap penetration.
Occasionally, he mixes an adept jump cut to reach the blocker’s inside shoulder. The film also shows plentiful examples of this trait being exploited schematically through interior stunts.
Regardless of how he pivots to the inside, he routinely does damage from this attack point. His lean frame and relentless approach allow him to get thin and penetrate even the smallest gaps.
Take a look at the following example against Mississippi State. At the snap, the right tackle makes an exaggerated jump step to protect against an outside speed rush. Anderson takes advantage of this by countering with an interior advance. Before the tackle can recover, Anderson has gained valuable leverage. He then uses his impressive length and wingspan to drag the quarterback down for a pivotal red zone sack.
Draftniks left February’s NFL Combine slightly disappointed in Anderson’s 4.60s 40-yard dash time, some even going so far as to label his athleticism as “average.” However, the game film tells a different story.
On tape, you see a player with a big first step who explodes off the line. And frankly, how often does an edge rusher traverse 40 yards to make a play on a football field? From a metrics standpoint, Anderson’s lively 10-yard split of 1.61s is far more indicative of his true potential.
Anderson can get on top of a blocker in a heartbeat and has a motor that won’t quit. Scouts often covet ‘twitch,’ a dynamic ability to win individual matchups, and Anderson has this attribute in spades.
In the example below, you see an excellent demonstration of this trait. Anderson erupts off the line at the snap and immediately has the protection reeling. The poor left tackle rebounds just enough to get his hands up, but Anderson gets his pad level so low that he easily defeats this recovery attempt. In the blink of an eye, the quarterback is down, and the drive is disrupted.
What Should Concern You?
Ironically, the same frame that makes Anderson such a slippery and dangerous interior rusher can also be a bit of a liability for him on the edges. Though not uncommon for taller pass rushers, the film shows a lack of bend when rushing from the outside.
Speed rushers often utilize flexibility in their hips to generate low leverage on their blocking counterparts. Von Miller has dominated the edges for years by capitalizing on this advantage. Anderson’s rigid hips (shown below) starkly contrast to Miller’s infamous talent in this regard.
Without the ability to bend, Anderson must develop alternative pass-rush moves to win from the outside. In college, he relied heavily on a bull rush to torment tackles. However, in the pros, he will be matched up with larger and more savvy opponents who will easily counter a one-dimensional approach.
Comparison – Brian Burns
Carolina’s Brian Burns is a lofty comparison with 38 sacks and a pair of Pro Bowl appearances over his four-year NFL career. However, I feel it adequately measures Anderson’s traits and potential impact as a pro.
First off, let’s consider the juxtaposition of simple measurables. Anderson is within an inch and a half of Burns’ height and within four pounds of his weight. Their hand sizes are within an eighth of an inch, and they have an identical 33 ⅞” arm length. Both players had remarkably similar 10-yard splits, with Burns edging out a slim 2.5% advantage.
And the resemblances are not merely confined to the clipboard either. Both players possess an uncommon blend of power and speed, making them particularly challenging to stop.
First, let’s explore their power. I mentioned earlier that Anderson relies heavily on the bull rush and has the strength to move blockers off of their spot. Observe the clip below where Anderson bulldozes the left tackle back to the quarterback. It looks eerily similar to Burns’ corresponding effort against the Bengals, doesn’t it?
Now let’s examine how these players balance their power with enough speed to keep protections off balance. Much like Burns, Anderson can explode off the line at the snap. In the clip provided, he blows past the Georgia lineman before the young man can even get set. The comparison to Burns’ hasty defeat of the Niners’ protection is natural and just.
Some players need a strong showing at the NFL Combine to get on the radar of pro personnel. Their gameday performances need something extra to set them apart in a sea of college tape. Anderson is not that guy.
The talented Alabama edge rusher has a resume that speaks for itself. A four-star recruit out of high school, Anderson earned a significant role at Alabama as a freshman playing in every game and recording seven sacks. During his tenure at Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide would amass an impressive 37-4 record while claiming two SEC titles and a National Championship. Anderson has popped against the highest levels of collegiate competition, and there is little doubt about the portability of his skills to the next level.
Anderson has the body size, quickness, and power to succeed as an NFL edge rusher and will find a new home quickly on draft night. Depending on your IDP scoring system, you can expect Anderson to be one of the first defensive players off the board in your rookie draft. As the offensive skill positions begin to thin out, I would have no objection to grabbing a talent of Anderson’s caliber by the mid to late second round.
Trust your eyes. Anderson has star potential in the NFL and could very quickly follow in the footsteps of Burns. No matter how much you covet that sleeper running back, Anderson’s talent and potential trump that value and offer a much higher upside to your lineup. Draft Will Anderson and lock up the pride of the Crimson Tide. You’ll be glad you did.
I thoroughly enjoyed bringing you this piece and would love to continue the conversation on Will Anderson. Please feel free to comment below or contact me @Spydes78 on Twitter. And also, stay tuned to @DynastyNerds for a steady pipeline of content from our eminently qualified staff to carry you through your offseason. If you like what you read, please consider subscribing to any of the elite tools that Dynasty Nerds offers. Make sure to use the promo code “SPYDES” to receive a 15% discount. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the grind!