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2023 NFL Draft Preview: Will Anderson — the best defensive player of the 21st century

A force of nature, the Terminator is the best defensive player of this century. It’s not close.

2021 SEC Championship - Georgia v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Since the day he stepped on campus, Will Anderson was destined to do special things, to be a special player. He was singled out his first camp by Nick Saban as a difference-maker. In his first Fall scrimmage, he had “multiple sacks” and disruptive plays.

Saban was not the only one that noticed. Even on perhaps the most talented Alabama team of the century, Landon Dickerson had nothing but praise for Anderson.

“He’s just a guy who came in and you could just tell he’s got it,” defensive tackle DJ Dale said. “His confidence. He’s just so willing to learn. He listens. He’s a great player. He’s got it. He came in with it.”

Asked about Anderson on Thursday, fifth-year offensive lineman Landon Dickerson called the freshman a “terrific guy” and “great athlete.”

“He’s done a lot of great things,” Dickerson said.

How did that translate to the field? He didn’t miss a beat. In fact, he not only played all 13 games, he started and was a force of nature. As a true freshman, Anderson was second on the team in sacks, second in tackles for loss, first in QB hits, and first in QB hurries. It was a pattern that would play out for the next three years: Even when Anderson didn’t make a play, he was affecting them. He led the team with a negative play on 37% of his snaps: 10 TFL, 7 sacks, FF, 52 tackles. Anderson not only was honored as a Freshman All-American, but even made All-SEC.

For 2021, Anderson served up an encore that words simply do not do justice to. It was not merely dominant, it was transcendent. In the last 30 years, only two players have had the kind of season that Anderson did: Ndamukong Suh in 2009 was the other. His statline is frankly obscene: 17.5 sacks, 31 tackles for loss, 101 tackles, 9 QB hurries, 23 QB hits. On 68% of pass attempt snaps, Will was making contact with an offensive player. For the year, he was involved in 45% of all defensive stops the Crimson Tide made in 2021.

The Terminator’s productivity “slipped” to “just” 10 sacks in 2022, and his TFL and tackles were halved, but Anderson was also the beneficiary of 62 uncalled holding penalties. He didn’t slow down: he was handicapped, and that will not be the case in the NFL. Because as a senior, his technique was even better. He had rounded into a complete pass-rusher.

Anderson always had straight line speed. Anderson always had serviceable power. But to his devastating swim move and spin, Anderson also mastered the rip and worked on leveraging his size in the bull rush. When you add those formidable tools to the best inside rush in the college game, and an edge that reads and plays the run as well as anyone, it explains why he was doubled on 70% of his snaps and held on 62 of them. Anderson is frankly unstoppable if you don’t.

Anderson’s accolades could fill a trophy case, and yet still feel underwhelming: He was a three-time All-American, a three-time All-SEC performer, the two-time SEC DPOTY, a Heisman finalist, the winner of the Bednarik POTY, the two-time winner of the Nagurski “defensive Heisman,” the Lott Impact Trophy winner, and a two-time Unanimous All-American. He also exits Alabama second in sacks only behind Derrick Thomas, though his name will now always be mentioned in the same breath as that legend..and it is not insulting to do so.

We use “generational” far too often when hyping players, but Will Anderson is special. generational. He’s a player that can be shortlisted for the gold jacket before he plays a snap. Some guys just have it. Troy Polamalu did, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis did, Derrick Thomas did, Minkah Fitzpatrick did. Eric Berry did. Will Anderson is that calibre of player. The only thing that can stop Anderson are injuries or uncalled holdings — and he’s been very healthy; he’s not missed a single game.

Anderson has been the best player in college football for the last two years. He’s the best, and most certain player in this draft — or any draft of the last two decades. Whoever drafts The Terminator has a decade-long all-pro franchise cornerstone. And god help any GM that passes him by...if any do.

Will has earned his degree, is a permanent team captain, and has led by example for three years. When Alabama had the chance to rest stars for a “meaningless” Sugar Bowl in January, the man that had nothing to prove and everything to lose, was the first to say he was not sitting out. And Anderson balled out, dominating Kansas State as he did for almost 50 games, without taking a snap off, or loafing for a series. That character, that leadership, his solid citizenship set him apart from anyone else in the 21st century that would lay claim to the title of “best defensive player.”

It’s Anderson, and it’s not close.

Anderson may not go first overall in the NFL Draft, but he damned well should. He’s the most accomplished defender at a school with a 120-year history of a proud defensive identity. He just may be the best in that time too. And the fact that we can even have that debate alone speaks enough for his talent.


Is Will Anderson the best defender in Alabama football history?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    (36 votes)
  • 11%
    (35 votes)
  • 76%
    He’s at least on the very short list with three or four others.
    (232 votes)
  • 0%
    Unknown / No Opinion
    (0 votes)
303 votes total Vote Now