There is no question that the Chicago Bears' biggest need going into the 2023 NFL season is to upgrade the defensive line. The Bears will have that opportunity in April's Draft if they hold on to the second overall pick, as the two best players are defensive linemen. We talked about Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter last week, and today we will take a look at Alabama edge Will Anderson.
Two Edge players have gone either first or second in the Draft in recent years. They would be Myles Garrett from Texas A&M, who went first overall to Cleveland in 2017, and Chase Young from Ohio State, who was the second overall pick in 2020 to Washington. While I doubt Anderson will go first overall, there is a darn good chance he could go number two.
In comparing Anderson to Garrett and Young, he is built differently. He doesn't have the size of either. Garrett was 6045 – 272 with 4.64 speed when he was in the Draft. Young was 6047 – 264 and did not work out pre-draft because of injury.
Anderson is listed as being 6040 – 243, but a scout who I am close to said that he played this season at around 251. Looking at him, he has the frame to easily play in the NFL at between 255 and 260. He has good arm length and is very strong for his size. The player who would be more of a comp to Anderson than Garrett or Young is former Bear Khalil Mack. When Mack was in the Draft, he measured 6025 – 251. He ran 4.65 at the Combine and came back a few weeks later to run a 4.55 at the Buffalo Pro Day. Scouts I talked to feel Anderson will run in the 4.58 – 4.62 range.
Looking at college sack production, Anderson is actually more productive than Garrett, Young, or Mack. Going into this week's Sugar Bowl, Anderson has 34.5 career sacks in three seasons, with the most being 17.5 in 2021. This year he is currently at 10 sacks, as teams are scheming to stop him.
In his three-year career at Texas A&M, Garrett had 31 sacks with a high of 11.5 in 2015, his sophomore year. Young totaled 30.5 sacks in three seasons at Ohio State, with the most being 16.5 in 2019. Mack only registered 28.5 sacks in four seasons at Buffalo, with the most being 10.5 in his final year at UB.
Despite not being overly big, Anderson is strong at the point of attack. He seldom gives ground to blockers, and I have seen him 2-gap an offensive tackle several times, get off the block and make a play at the line of scrimmage for a loss. Besides having good arm length, he has very good hand use as both a run defender or pass rusher.
When rushing the passer, he can use speed or power to win, has a variety of moves, and can re-direct very well. He shows an excellent burst coming off a block to close on the quarterback.
In Alabama's scheme, he is listed as a linebacker, but in reality, that is a misnomer. Alabama plays a base 3-4, and when lined up in base, Anderson is on his feet, but when in sub, which is the majority of the time, he is on the line of scrimmage lined up at both a two or three-point stance. This year he even lined up inside at times over a tackle as a 5-tech. He has dropped into coverage and has very good awareness when in coverage. Because of his athleticism, Anderson will be a prospect for both 3-4 and 4-3 clubs. Regardless, on passing downs, he will be strictly a pass rusher.
What I like about Anderson's game is he always plays hard. He is a force versus both the run and pass. He has a lot of power in his hips, and that shows when he tries to bull rush. Several times we see him drive back 300+ pound tackles into the quarterback. As a pursuit player, he has speed and consistently takes good angles to the ball. If there is a negative in Anderson's game, it's that he misses some tackles. This is because he doesn't consistently wrap up but rather just "hits." That is purely a coaching issue and not a talent issue.
When we look at value of position, a pass rusher always has more value than an inside player. That said, in the Bears' scheme, the 3-tech is a very important position but is it as important as a guy who can rush the passer? That will be a question that Bears GM Ryan Poles, and Head Coach Matt Eberflus will answer as we get closer to the Draft.
Depending on where the Bears end up in the Draft order, it will tell us if they have a shot at one or both of Anderson and Carter. A lot will be determined by what Houston does at number one. Many feel they will take a quarterback, but that is not a lock as they have a second first-round pick (from Cleveland) that, in all probability, will also be in the top 10. They could take a defensive player at one and come back and get the quarterback with their second first-round pick. It will be an interesting next four months, seeing how this all develops and plays out.