I think it was Hulk Hogan who once said, “with great power comes great responsibility”.
I’m probably wrong about that, but my Spidey Senses aren’t telling me who it might be. Either way, the Bears are currently projected to hold the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. There’s still plenty of time left in the regular season, so while that current positioning might change in due time, it seems pretty likely that Chicago will end up with a high pick in the first round this offseason.
Over the next few months, I will be highlighting several 2023 draft prospects who could be first-round targets for the Bears. To kick things off, I’ve decided to take a look at decorated Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr.
Weight: 243 pounds
Anderson was a four-star recruit at defensive end coming out of the state of Georgia in high school. He took over the starting JACK linebacker position from Day 1 of the 2020 season and immediately made an impact for the Crimson Tide. He was named a Freshman All-American for tallying 52 tackles, 7 sacks, 10.5 tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. The AP also named him a second-team All-SEC defender for his efforts.
It was in 2021 that Anderson truly broke out onto the scene. He dominated to the tune of 101 tackles, 17.5 sacks and 31 tackles for a loss in 15 games. Among his numerous accolades for the season was the Bronko Nagurski Trophy for the best defender in the nation, an unanimous All-American and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. His production has fallen off a little bit with opposing offenses keying in on him more, but he has still tallied a respectable 51 tackles, 10 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss through his first 12 games of 2022.
In terms of pure pass-rushing value, Anderson is as good as they come in this class.
His production speaks for itself, and it’s not like his sacks aren’t earned: just 2 of his 10 sacks in 2022 were unblocked, while just 2 of his 17.5 sacks in 2021 were unblocked. As a technician, he brings a lot to the table that coaches will love. He has very quick and active hands, which allows him to execute moves like rips, swims, two-hand shucks and speed chops. He also does a good job of keeping his pads low and his weight underneath him.
Perhaps the thing that stands out the most about Anderson, though, is his athleticism. His first-step acceleration is simply remarkable, as he times his jumps well and has superb burst in his first few steps off the line of scrimmage. He is an explosive straight-line athlete with great closing speed when he hits the quarterback and very good value as a backside run defender in space. Anderson’s fluidity and flexibility make it easy for him to change direction in the open field and make his ability to turn the corner arguably the best in college football.
Anderson’s versatility should also help him out at the next level. He projects best as an edge rusher in the pros, but Alabama had him kick inside a little bit as a 4i-technique defensive end, and he has the explosiveness needed to serve as a dangerous threat stunting up the A gap. He plays hard on a down-by-down basis and is able to maximize his athletic gifts with tremendous effort and good situational awareness.
There honestly aren’t too many weaknesses in Anderson’s game, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for him to improve.
The main drawback with him is a lack of significant size, which could come back to hurt him a bit in the NFL. Anderson comes in a bit underweight for an edge rusher at the next level, and because of this, he can struggle a bit with pushing the pocket with power as a pass rusher. His hand activity and motor makes him a solid run defender, but if he wants to improve in his consistency setting the edge, he would benefit from adding a little bit more weight to his anchor.
Anderson is coordinated and polished in terms of weight distribution, but there are some times against the run where he leans forward a bit too much while engaged with blockers. He’s a flexible enough athlete that optimal weight distribution and straightening his frame out a bit shouldn’t be an issue.
Fit with the Bears
From a schematic perspective, there are better fits for the Bears in the 2023 NFL Draft than Anderson.
Anderson weighs 243 pounds, which would make him the lightest edge rusher on Chicago’s roster. While he doesn’t have the prototypical size for a 4-3 defensive end, that really shouldn’t disqualify him from consideration if he’s on the board when the Bears pick. He is the best pass-rusher in the 2023 draft and is arguably the best overall player in this class.
For the entirety of my 2023 pre-draft analysis, Anderson has been the No. 1 player on my board. A player of his caliber at a premier position — which just so happens to be a major need for the Bears — must be under consideration for selection. The question shouldn’t be whether Chicago should take Anderson, but rather, whether he’ll be available when it’s their turn to pick.