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5 clips: Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama

A top-tier pass rusher who might be better against the run

New Mexico State v Alabama
Will Anderson
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Alabama edge defender Will Anderson is widely considered a top prospect in this year’s NFL Draft class and is undoubtedly on every team’s radar, including the Las Vegas Raiders’. Sure, maybe only one, two or three teams will even have a shot at drafting Anderson, but he’s someone every general manager will want to study as he could be worth trading up for.

After leading all FBS edge rushers with 82 pressures last season, many are drawn to the Alabama product’s pass rush skills as that’s undoubtedly a big and important part of his game. However, he might be even better as a run defender.

Anderson posted an 89.6 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus a year ago which ranked fifth at his position, while also tieing for the fourth-most run stops with 33 on the campaign. His 47 solo tackles against the run were also good enough for second in the country and 11 more than any other SEC edge defender.

After flipping on the tape, it’s easy to see how the Alabama product dominated the competition and projects well to the pros.

After all that talk about how good Anderson is against the run, how about we take a look at an example.

He lines up inside shade of the right tackle and the Crimson Tide has a great slant called to combat the outside zone blocking scheme – where every offensive lineman is reaching or working to get outside of their defender(s).

Watch Anderson’s first few steps. He’s quick off the ball and gains ground both vertically and laterally with his L-step to execute the stunt, allowing him to maintain his inside leverage on the tackle. From there, we see him be the hammer and not the nail at the point of contact and use great leverage and hand usage to gain control of the block.

That allows him to work inside to disengage and the offensive lineman has two options; tackle him and get called for a penalty or give up a tackle for loss. The lineman chooses the former and Bama will gladly put Ole Miss in a 1st and 20 from their own 15-yard line.

For a guy his size, listed at 6’4” and 243 pounds, Anderson has a lot of power as a pass rusher which stems from his excellent technique.

Alabama brings the nickel off the edge and Ole Miss slides the protection into the blitz, but the right tackle picks up the defensive back instead of helping the guard. That leaves Anderson one-on-one with a guard and we’re about to highlight some of his best traits.

At the point of contact, look at where his helmet is in relation to the guard’s. The pass rusher gets the blocker right on the chin like a prizefighter to put the blocker on his heels. Then, Anderson gets his hands involved and keeps them inside on the blocker’s chest. That also helps him escape as he catches the guard’s hand and lifts it to further reduce the guard’s power and simultaneously, win on the inside to go get a sack.

The handwork and power here are signs of a pass rusher who knows what he’s doing and has a bright future ahead of him.

One thing that pops off the screen to me about Anderson’s ability to play the run is how physical he is at the point of attack.

Tennessee runs duo and they have the tight end play in a wing alignment where there’s no split between the tackle and tight end as their feet overlap. Anderson is responsible for the C-gap — between the right tackle and tight end — but it’s going to be difficult for him to fit that gap with those tight splits. And it’s crucial that he gets inside with only six defenders in the box and the right inside linebacker — No. 8 — scraping over the top.

But, we see that great pad level and use of hands at the point of attack again, and he takes the fight to the tight end. That puts the blocker off balance and makes it almost too easy for Anderson to get inside and off the block to go get involved in the play.

As a general rule of thumb, defensive linemen can’t get blocked by tight ends and it looks like the edge defender checks that box.

With how often teams run play-action, run/pass transitions have become much more important for pass rushers in today’s version of the NFL.

Here, Tenneessee calls a play action pass where their outside receiver on the left, who lines up maybe five yards from the sideline, runs a curl, the slot receiver on the wide side of the field has a seam route and the single receiver in the boundary runs a go route. So, the Volunteers are trying to push the ball down the field with the thought that the run fake will help the offensive line give the quarterback some more time. Even the “short throw”, the curl, would be a long toss since the receiver is so wide and the ball is on the far hashmark.

However, Anderson stands up his blocker and recognizes “high hat”, meaning the offensive line is pass blocking, pretty quickly. He also executes a beautiful push/pull move to get on an edge and off the block. Finally, he has the closing speed to limit the quarterback to just a one-yard gain as the QB climbs the pocket.

A little better bend and this might be a sack, but an impressive rep nonetheless.

One more play against the run that shows how Anderson can use his quickness to defeat blocks and be effective on stunts.

Tennessee runs an inside split zone where the running back’s aiming point is the left A-gap between the center and left guard. However, Alabama calls a T/E stunt on the play side where the defensive tackle gets penetration and the standup outside linebacker loops inside to take away the ball carrier’s first read.

The back then tries his luck on the backside, where Bama has an E/T stunt called, and Anderson uses his quickness off the ball to beat the right tackle across the tackle’s face and get underneath/occupy the tight end/fullback executing the split zone action. That forces the back to cut it all the way to the back side C-gap and helps free up his teammates to make the play, as he takes out two blockers.

In other words, Anderson ends up making this play without actually making the play.