Dutchtown’s Will Anderson expected to go in the top 5 of NFL draft

Here’s the seventh story in our position-by-position NFL draft series. Today, we’ll look at the top linebackers.

Over the past two college football seasons, no player has tormented opposing quarterbacks better than Alabama linebacker Will Anderson, a former AJC Super 11 player from Dutchtown High.

He turned in a spectacular 2021 season, and with a lot of teams focusing on slowing him, his numbers dipped last season. However, based on his career, he’s projected as a top-five selection in the NFL draft, which is set for April 27-29 in Kansas City, Missouri.

As a sophomore, Anderson recorded 17.5 sacks and an incredible 34.5 tackles for loss. With two players trying to block him on most plays, he had 10 sacks and 17 tackles for loss last season, but still won back-to-back SEC defensive player-of-the-year awards.

Anderson could go as high as No. 2 to the Texans, but if not, he’s not expected to last much longer. He said, “No sir” when asked if he cares where he’s selected.

Anderson’s skill set is at a premium in the NFL. Who doesn’t need a pass-rushing maven?

Like most of the good pass-rushers, Anderson has a signature more.

“I like the forklift move,” Anderson said. “I like to watch (49ers defensive lineman) Nick Bosa a lot. I like the way he likes to do his bull-spike (move) and stuff like that. I would like to implement that into my game.”

Some believe that Anderson is undersized at 243 pounds. Former Falcons defensive end John Abraham played at 255 from 2000-14 and was considered a small defensive end. He ended up with 133.5 career sacks.

“It’s about what you have in here (pointing to his heart), and that’s what has carried me to this point in my life,” Anderson said. “Always know that whatever I have going on, my mentality, my mindset, it’s not going to change. And that is (how) I approach things during the week of practice; that’s how I approach the game.”

Before picking Alabama over Auburn, Tennessee and LSU, Anderson was named first-team All-State by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2019. He credits his five sisters with showing him the way and keeping him grounded.

“All my sisters played sports,” Anderson said. “They played basketball. They ran track and played volleyball. I watched them. I watched how they worked. Watched their work ethic. … So that is how they molded me into the athlete that I am today.”

Anderson knows he’s not a finished NFL product.

“Just working in space,” Anderson said when asked about an area marked for improvement. “Working on my flexibility and mobility. This whole offseason that’s one of the things I have been working on.”

Anderson has an idea as to how he wants to impact the game at the next level.

“What makes a great pass rusher and edge rusher is getting pressure on the quarterback and getting sacks,” Anderson said. “Get him to get off his spot, throw interceptions. Help other people make sacks. Get him to throw incomplete balls out of bounds. That’s what makes an efficient pass rusher.”

Alabama’s staff knew how to deploy Anderson.

“They did a lot of stunts and twists with him,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “That’s what allowed him to be freed up, particularly in that 2021 season. (In the 2022 season), they were chip (blocking) and that had to do more with his production drop.”

Anderson could be even more disruptive. He needs to add one of Abraham’s trademark moves, the strip-sack.

“He didn’t have a forced fumble over the last two years, which he has to work on the, the strip-sack,” Kiper said. “He gives you everything that he has. He’s a special talent, a special young man. He’s going to be an 8-to-10 sack-a-year guy.”

Former Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith has had a strong pre-draft season and likely will be another first-round pick.

“Nolan Smith is interesting. I think he’s 3-4 edge, but I also think in some schemes he may be an off-the-ball linebacker that on obvious passing downs you turn loose off the edge,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “He’s unique in that way. I look at him ... With Nolan Smith, you’re getting the freakish athletic ability.”

Smith missed some of last season with a torn pectoral muscle. He turned some heads when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.

“The speed that he brings is just so unique,” McShay said.

At 238 pounds, Smith is considered a little light, too.

“But he mixes it up,” McShay said. “Boy is he tough. Bigger blockers, bigger backs. He’s not just one of the track guys, speed guys off the edge. He’s a physical run-defender who’s going to make you work for everything.”

Smith likely won’t be able to run over 300-pounders all of his career and will need to develop some counter moves to work his way through some contact.

“He’s an Alpha Dog,” McShay said. “In a year or two, he’s going to be the quarterback of the defense, the leader of that group. He just loves the game. Players like that, you just feel good about.”

The inside linebacker group, the off-the-ball crew, is not as highly touted for this draft.

The group includes Iowa’s Jack Campbell, Arkansas’ Drew Sanders, Clemson’s Trenton Simpson and Washington State’s Daiyan Henley.

“In my mind, those are the top four guys,” McShay said. “It won’t surprise me if none of them go in the first (round). Drew Sanders and Jack Campbell are the most likely to go in the first.”


WIDE RECEIVERSPast few drafts have spoiled NFL teams looking for wide receivers | Top 10 WRs

RUNNING BACKSRunning backs Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs may have to wait to hear their names called | Top 10 RBs

TIGHT ENDS Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer heads a dee TE class | Top 10 TEs

QUARTERBACKSBryce Young’s small stature no longer an issue in the NFL | Top 10 QBs

OFFENSIVE LINESkoronski’s short arm length being scrutinized for left tackle | Top 5 C,G, &OTs

DEFENSIVE LINE Is Jalen Carter the real deal or a potential bust? | Top 5 DTs, DEs





The Bow Tie Chronicles

Alabama linebacker Will Anderson runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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Credit: AP

Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31) gets ready to run a play against Arkansas during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

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Dutchtown defensive lineman Will Anderson is the first AJC Super 11 selection from the Hampton, Ga., school.

Credit: Christina R. Matacotta

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Credit: Christina R. Matacotta