NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2022. This is the second entry in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout July.
After bursting onto the scene in Nick Saban's defense as a true freshman in 2020, Will Anderson Jr. cemented himself in the elite class of college football talents in 2021, showing the ability to dominate off the edge against top competition. The Tide star led the FBS in tackles for loss (34.5; second-most in a single season in UA history) and sacks (17.5; third-most in UA history).
Entering his junior season, the hype surrounding Anderson is through the roof, as you might expect for such a highly decorated performer returning to one of CFB's powerhouse programs. It's the job of a scout to not get caught up in the excitement and go to the film for a true evaluation of a player. I have to admit, though, my study provided a very clear answer to the question of whether he's worthy of the buzz.
After watching four of Anderson's game tapes from the 2021 season, here is my initial scouting report on the Alabama edge rusher ...
Height, weight: 6-foot-4, 243 pounds (school measurements).
2021 statistics (15 games played): 102 tackles (58 solo), 34.5 for loss (17.5 sacks), three passes defensed.
Game tape watched: at Mississippi State (Oct. 16, 2021), vs. Georgia (SEC Championship Game; Dec. 4, 2021), vs. Cincinnati (College Football Playoff semifinal; Dec. 31, 2021), vs. Georgia (CFP National Championship; Jan. 10, 2022).
What I liked: I'm tempted to say everything. He checks every box. As a pass rusher, he has a dynamic first step. Anderson has long arms and he keeps opponents away from his chest. When his alignment is loose on the edge, he uses that runway to devastate offensive tackles with speed-to-power rushes. He is explosive as a looper on stunts, too. When he's aligned on the inside shoulder of the tackle, he wins with quickness to slip blocks and create havoc.
Against the run, he easily stacks single blocks and sets the edge. He can knife through double-teams to tally tackles for loss. His effort is outstanding to chase from the backside. It's almost comical what he does to tight ends and running backs when they draw the unfortunate assignment to block him.
I was surprised to see how comfortable Anderson was in coverage when given the opportunity to drop back. He can run and mirror tight ends in the middle of the field. I'm confident he could excel playing off the ball if called upon to do that at the next level. That's just an added luxury.
Where he needs to improve: There isn't much to mention here. I saw him get sealed by down blocks when tightly aligned a few times. He doesn't have wow chase speed deep down the field but he is excellent in short areas (SEE: Anderson's quick redirect and tackle against electric Georgia RB James Cook early in the second quarter of the national title game). This is really nitpicking. He's as polished and explosive as any pass rusher I've ever evaluated.
Biggest takeaway: I could make a 20-minute highlight tape of impressive defensive snaps from Anderson during the 2021 season. However, I was most blown away by his performance on extra-point attempts. I know that sounds crazy, but it's true. Having worked with one of Bill Belichick's top scouts, I know the importance the Patriots head coach places on that play. It tells you everything about the competitiveness of a player. After giving up a touchdown, you often see defensive players give marginal effort on extra-point tries. Anderson, despite being the most talented player in college football, plays harder than anyone else on the field during what some would consider a meaningless snap. I asked a source at Alabama about his character and he told me, "That's the best thing about him." It's rare to find a player with his combination of talent and intangibles. Special!
He reminds me of: Von Miller. I realize this is high praise but I got the same vibe watching Anderson that I did when I studied Miller coming out of Texas A&M in 2011. Both guys have very long arms. They understand how to set up blockers and finish. They are devastating on the backside versus the run and they play with excellent effort. Miller, an eight-time Pro Bowl selectee, bends a little better than Anderson but I'd give the Bama edge rusher the nod when it comes to pure power.
I can't wait to watch him play: at Texas on Sept. 10. I love it when we get to see big non-conference matchups. Texas is starting to build some buzz and is loaded with offensive skill-position talent. The atmosphere will be electric and I'm expecting Anderson to more than meet the moment. He's the best player in the country and I think this could be an early statement about his candidacy for the Heisman Trophy, an award that hasn't been won by a primarily defensive player since 1997.