Few players did more to boost their NFL Draft stock in the 2022 college football season than Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders.
As a five-star recruit coming out of high school, it was clear from an early age he had the tools to eventually succeed at the NFL level. After playing his first two collegiate seasons at Alabama, during which he saw solid playing time on defense but served predominantly on special teams, he joined the Razorbacks for the 2022 campaign and broke out in a major way.
A first-team All-American and a first-team All-SEC linebacker, as well as a finalist for the Butkus Award, Sanders served as a key member of Arkansas’ defense with his ability to rush off the edge and up the middle, as well as his abilities as an off-ball linebacker.
Sanders spoke with Windy City Gridiron about his breakout campaign, his philanthropic work with Six Star Pro Nutrition and Feeding Hunger, what goes into his defensive versatility, and more.
JI: You’re partnering with Six Star Pro Nutrition leading up to the draft. Can you speak a bit to your work you’re doing there?
DS: A bottle of Whey Protein Plus, you buy that? $1 will go to Feeding Hunger, which is 10 meals. It’s a great opportunity to help your community. A big part of it [is] Arkansas and Walmart kind of go hand-in-hand, so it’s a great opportunity for me, for sure.
JI: What does it mean to you to have this platform as a soon-to-be pro athlete as a way to help your community?
DS: Yeah, any time you’re able to help people around you, it’s a big deal. Why not take the opportunity when it comes?
JI: How do you think your time at Alabama prepared you for your success at Arkansas?
DS: Alabama was a great program. I was around a lot of great coaches, a lot of great players, and a system that was built for success there. Once I went to Arkansas, I saw an opportunity to take that and become my own player in a way and show I could be successful.
JI: You had a massive season that ended in you being a first-team All-American. What went into your big breakout year this season?
DS: Like I’ve said before, it was a big deal for me to be able to show I’m a versatile player, and I’m able to experience playing that off-the-ball linebacker but still get after the quarterback. Wherever you stick me on a defense, I can play.
JI: Speaking of that versatility, you might be the best pass-rushing LB in this class. What’s your favorite move to utilize as a pass rusher?
DS: Rushing off the edge, I use a counter spin a lot, come back underneath and really sell speed and go to that. [It’s] probably my No. 1 move, and I’ve have a lot of success on that, as well.
JI: Does your approach change as a pass rusher when you’re shooting up the A-gap instead of off the edge?
DS: Yeah, I mean, it’s going to change a little bit, because you got a lot more situations where guards come down on you and stuff like that, but rushing on the interior’s a little different than rushing on the edge, for sure.
JI: What goes into that versatility to be able to excel in several different alignments?
DS: I really had an offensive background [in high school], so I was pretty used to playing on my feet and playing in space. I did that all of high school, then with Alabama, I played the edge for two years and ended up playing stack again, so I feel like those two years at Alabama really helped me to be able to have those rush skills and be able to play on the edge. Then, [having] that background from playing offense, being able to play in space, play on my feet helped me when they moved me to stack.
JI: When people have that debate about the top linebacker in this draft, you’re a name that comes up a lot. In your mind, what makes you the best linebacker in this class?
DS: I feel like I’ve really played stack linebacker for one year, and I almost won the Butkus [Award] at that. I feel like from a versatility standpoint, you can stick me like I said, wherever you want on a defense. I’m able to get the job done.
JI: How do you spend your free time outside of football?
DS: Big time, getting outdoors a little bit. [I] love fishing, all that kind of stuff.
JI: What’s the biggest fish you’ve ever caught?
DS: Fishing in Oregon with my uncle a couple times, [I] caught a few salmon, a couple steelheads, stuff like that.
JI: Let’s say I’m an NFL general manager. What would I be getting if I drafted you to my team?
DS: You got a player where football has been his life for a long time. There’s a lot of players but my dad’s been a coach. I mean, every single day, football has been a big part of my life. You’re getting a player that is pretty disciplined in his work, and he’s going to work hard and is a tough, physical player.
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