Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama | NFL Draft Scouting Report

Is Alabama EDGE Will Anderson Jr. the blue-chip chaos generator that Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans needs for his defense? Let's take a closer look.

Was Alabama EDGE Will Anderson Jr. the top player in the 2023 NFL Draft? It’s rare for any prospect to be the consensus No. 1 overall player in a given class, but Anderson had more fans than most. Here’s how the Crimson Tide conqueror graded out on our board and what exactly he provides to the Houston Texans on Day 1.

Will Anderson Jr. NFL Draft Profile

  • Position: EDGE
  • School: Alabama
  • Current Year: Junior
  • Height/Weight: 6’3 1/2″, 253 pounds
  • Arm Length: 33 7/8″
  • Hand: 9 7/8″

It’s hard to say “from humble beginnings” with Anderson because, in truth, he’s always been at the forefront of the football landscape.

Anderson was a top-50 prospect on ESPN’s board in the 2020 recruiting class after racking up 22 sacks as a high school senior. He signed with the vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide and immediately factored into the starting equation.

And in 2021, he finished fifth in Heisman voting and took home the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given to the nation’s best defensive player.

Even before he was draft-eligible, Anderson was lauded as a future No. 1 overall pick candidate, in the same lens as Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. And on the field, Anderson is just as imposing.

That was evident even in 2020 when Anderson logged seven sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss as a true freshman. But it was even more distinct in 2021 when Anderson ruled the trenches to the tune of 17.5 sacks and 31 tackles for loss, securing over 100 total tackles.

2022 was technically a down year statistically for Anderson, but for anyone else, it would’ve been a career season. Anderson casually put up 10 more sacks and 17 more tackles for loss before officially declaring for the 2023 NFL Draft — where he was the first non-QB selected, going third overall to the Texans.

Will Anderson Jr. Scouting Report

Anderson had elite collegiate production to the level where his failing almost seems impossible. But it’s important to make no prospect untouchable. Where does Anderson win, where can he improve, and where might he be limited? Here’s a comprehensive look.

Anderson’s Strengths

In Anderson, there is the marriage of elite physical talent and elite want-to. The Alabama EDGE has a strong and compact frame with exceptional length. And within that frame, he has high-end athletic traits.

Anderson is very explosive in short ranges. He generates excellent burst on his first step and accelerates instantly when keying on plays. Moreover, Anderson is an energetic, amped-up mover for his size, traversing congested areas with effervescent twitch.

Not only is Anderson explosive vertically, but he’s also extremely explosive laterally. He can traverse entire gaps with immediacy, and he has the elite lateral agility to stunt gaps and sustain acceleration while testing angles.

The Alabama EDGE is very light on his feet and can capitalize on linemen lunging with brisk bursts of lateral movement. He’s able to use his finesse and lateral suddenness to scrape by moving blocks.

Anderson is an exceptional athlete, and he also brings absurd play strength and power capacity for his frame. His strong hands allow him to control reps, and he brings visible knock-back power at the point of attack.

Not only does Anderson hit with force, but he can also generate excellent upper-body torque and use it to violently wrench down blocks when latched. Moreover, he can sustain leg drive on power rushes and drive generated power forward.

On top of all this, Anderson has a degree of bend capacity as well. He has enough ankle flexion to pinch tight angles around blockers when stunting.

He can sustain acceleration while flexing his lower body and leaning into direction changes, making for dangerous closing speed in tight spaces. And he can flip his hips in congestion, making it easier to clog lanes in run defense.

Anderson is an awe-inspiring physical talent, but the other elements of his game are almost more impressive. His balance and leverage stand out as particularly strong points.

Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31) celebrates after a victory against the Georgia Bulldogs

Anderson is extremely proficient at recollecting his feet after impact and maintaining balance amidst adversity. With his flexibility, he lowers his pads very naturally and constantly seeks superior leverage and positioning.

Going further, Anderson’s hand usage is advanced for his age. The Alabama EDGE can target and negate extensions with precise hands, and he can use brutal swipes to keep himself clean in congestion. In one-on-one situations, he can set up tackles with rushing angles, then capitalize on displacement and multitask around the apex.

Anderson consistently seeks to replace his hands and re-exert power when anchored and can accomplish this with his torque and explosion. He has a brutal forklift move and can also win with rips, swims, swipes, and cross-chops.

Anderson’s entire game is tied together by his relentless, unending motor. He routinely plays to the whistle with elite energy and effort. He’s always battling in tight spaces, using rapid hands to fight through congestion. Additionally, his motor shows up on the chase as well.

Anderson is a menace in pursuit. He’s extremely active on the backside, and he can engulf runners with his brisk closing speed and wingspan. His 4.6 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine paints a picture of his range when chasing down plays. That speed, along with his near-34″ arms, helps him engulf runners.

Continuing with his pursuit, Anderson consistently pursues to the sideline and can get his hands up to deflect passes and clog the passing lane. He reads the run very well, showing he can disengage in a timely manner and erase lanes. Finally, Anderson is a very reliable tackler in the pursuit phase. He consistently wraps up and has the strength to make solo tackles.

Anderson’s Areas for Improvement

Anderson has very few deficiencies, but there are several traits that aren’t quantifiably elite — among them, bend, size, and hand usage.

Starting with bend, Anderson pops up a bit upright out of his stance at times, which can sap at initial explosiveness. His hips sometimes lock up at the apex, and with his high-cut frame, he doesn’t have elite bend or sinking capacity. Moreover, the Alabama EDGE shows minor stiffness when changing directions in space at times.

While Anderson has great strength for his frame, he can sometimes be locked up in 1-on-1 situations. The Alabama EDGE lacks quantifiably elite strength and can struggle to deconstruct around the apex against larger tackles. More refinement with his hand usage, however, could help combat this. It’s also encouraging that he has the length to counteract and weighed in at 253 pounds at the Combine.

With his hands, Anderson sometimes fails to drive power directly, losing coordination and control at impact. He can be more consistent in stacking counters, as his rushes sometimes die after initial moves.

Anderson can also improve his timing and spatial awareness. At times, he eats up too much space before engaging and can’t manipulate angles or load up his hands. In a similar vein, his hands can be somewhat lax on occasion.

Lastly, Anderson sometimes sacrifices leverage trying to stonewall blockers with sheer momentum, using his frame as a projectile.

Will Anderson Jr.’s 2023 NFL Outlook

Anderson’s grade landed him in the blue-chip range — exalted company in any class. And on my 2023 NFL Draft board, he was the top overall prospect when accounting for positional value. Because of the need for QBs at the top of the board, he didn’t go first overall, but he was the first non-QB taken for good reason.

Anderson isn’t quite the size of past first-overall picks, but at the NFL Combine, he packed on good weight and showed he could retain his athleticism. That athleticism is such a vital part of Anderson’s game.

He brings elite explosiveness off the snap, elite lateral agility when stunting across gaps, and he can ruthlessly forklift blockers out of his path with his length, strength, power, and relentless motor.

Along with his strong foundational traits, Anderson provides solid bend capacity and ankle flexion, a working arsenal of pass-rush moves, and a red-hot motor and sharp playmaking instinct in pursuit. He also has the range to run down ball carriers, and he’s as reliable as edge rushers get at the tackle point.

Ultimately, Anderson possesses immediate high-level utility both as a pass rusher and a run defender, with a violent disposition and explosive traits in both phases. And with his size, length, and athleticism, he can rush from a two-point stance in wide alignments or shade inside, stunt across gaps, and use his blend of lateral agility and strength to destroy blocking schemes.

Take out the checklist, and it becomes clear: Anderson has all the traits you want in a blue-chip edge rusher at the NFL level. His power profile isn’t dissimilar from that of NFL All-Pro Khalil Mack, and at his maximum, Anderson can have a similar impact on a defense. He’s a blue-chip prospect and a difference-maker in the making.

For DeMeco Ryans’ scheme in Houston, Anderson grants both versatility and tried-and-true disruptive ability as an even-front defensive end.

As mentioned earlier, he can play from a number of different stances and alignments, and ultimately, his elite foundation of explosiveness, power, agility, violence, and contact force make him a swarming image of chaos for opposing offenses right out of the gate.

There’s still a bit more room for Anderson to further refine his hand usage arsenal. That’s why it might take him a year or two to reach his ultimate ceiling. But he’s a tsunami wave in pursuit, who will destroy blocks and make tackles behind the line of scrimmage from the get-go. And with some time to develop, he has true All-Pro upside.

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