This series will feature the top NFL Draft prospects with insight from the beat reporters that covered them in college. This article is just a preview of the full interview which can be heard on the Deep Slant podcast.
Name: Will Anderson Jr.
Position: Outside linebacker
Height/Weight: 6-4, 243
Hometown: Hampton, Georgia
(Below is a portion of Deepi Sidhu's interview with Charlie Potter, Alabama football beat reporter for 24/7 Sports.)
Sidhu: What have you thought of Will Anderson Jr. and all the buzz surrounding him so far?
Potter: It was hard to ignore and avoid the buzz that he was generating as a true freshman in the spring time and Alabama's preseason camp. I was getting texts and calls just like, this guy is insane, they can't block him, he's going to be very hard to keep off the field. And sure enough, Alabama puts out its depth chart, much to the chagrin of Nick Saban, on that first game week of the season and there's Will Anderson top line true freshman as an outside linebacker and he held on to that spot his entire career and just was remarkable.
He had an unbelievable season in 2021 whenever he was really comfortable and was the guy on that defensive side of the ball. Heck, as a sophomore, he was named a team captain and I think that says a lot about him as a person and as a player. This past year, you saw teams really hone in on him and maybe try to take him out of the game plan or from him wreaking havoc in the backfield but he still had an excellent season. He had double-digit sacks, I think nearly 20 tackles for loss. He was near the lead or led the SEC in both categories and he exits Alabama as a guy that is second. And you look at Alabama's Will Anderson's career and how can this guy be second in terms of sacks and tackles for loss? But he's behind a guy named Derrick Thomas who just obliterated the stat sheet when he was at Alabama. So an amazing career. He won every defensive award you can win this past season and he deserved it. And as good of a player as Will Anderson is, he's an even better person. With how his teammates perceive him, the impact that he has, I think that says a lot. Wherever he goes, somebody is going to get a special player and he's going to have a long and prosperous career in the NFL.
Sidhu: I think one of the most impressive parts of his game is just his ability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Just looking at his stats, especially his 2021 stat line, 81 total pressures, 55 quarterback hurries, 11 quarterback hits and an outstanding 15 sacks on the season. What do you think makes him so effective at getting to the quarterback?
Potter: It's a good question. I don't think it's just one thing. I think he is a guy that knows how to use his technique and is really worked on that over the course of his career. He knows how to use his hands. He is effective just in being a strong pass rusher and kind of bullying his way into the backfield. He can do everything and I think that's something that's progressed over the course of his time at Alabama. He's worked with (Sr. Special Assistant to the HC) Sal Sunseri a lot in doing that and then (Special Teams Coordinator/OLB Coach) Coleman Hutzler this last season.
Just to finish your career with 34.5 sacks is special. It's funny that the 2021 season he was just a havoc in the backfield. You also had the emergence of Dallas Turner, who was a true freshman then and another former five-star recruit at Alabama, emerged in the second half of the season because I think teams were starting to focus more on Will and like, we can't let this guy disrupt our game. And while Dallas emerged and had some good stats, it still didn't stop Will from having remarkable performances.
This past year, like I said at the beginning, even more so, teams tried to stop 31 from just disrupting everything they were doing in the backfield. It didn't work all the time, but his numbers took a little bit of a dip. I think that also says a lot about the respect he has from opposing offensive coordinators because he is a guy that whenever he gets his hands on a tackle or makes his pass-rush move, he's going to be in the backfield and be in the backfield in a hurry because he has a quick first step and he's a knowledgeable player so he knows what to do. He knows what the play is, where the play is coming, where the ball is coming.
Sidhu: Any particular performance or moment in your time covering Anderson, that really stands out to you?
Potter: There's a lot you know. Heck, you think about the pick-six he had early in the season this past year. Honestly though, when I think of Will, and this is a kind of a reporter bias thing, it's just the snippets, the soundbites he's provided behind the podium, because there was a time last year where Alabama almost lost at Florida. They went on the road and lost at Texas A&M. And he's a guy - if he ends up in Houston, you'll know this right away - he always has a smile on his face. whether he wants to speak to reporters or not, he's going to do it. He's just a happy-go-lucky guy around the facility when he's not on the field. That obviously changes when he gets on the field. But when that happened, he just the smile kind of vanished and he was all business and he provided some of the best quotes just in terms of being a leader and getting back to the Alabama standard.
He makes plays all the time but I think it's that charisma, that attitude that makes him special. It's what makes players gravitate towards him, it's why he was voted the two-time team captain. I think if he ends up in Houston, Texans fans are going to love him, but I think reporters are going to love him just as much because he's a guy that he's going to speak his mind and when things aren't going well, he's going to be pissed off about it.