Background: INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - JANUARY 10: Stetson Bennett #13 of the Georgia Bulldogs runs with the ball as Will Anderson Jr. #31 of the Alabama Crimson Tide defends in the second quarter of the game during the 2022 CFP National Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 10, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images.
I thought it would be interesting to pool our insights as to how each of us would compare and contract the top two 4-3 OLB prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft, which is scheduled to commence five weeks from tonight.
Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
- Age: 21
- Height: 6-3 1/2
- Weight: 253
- 40 Time: 4.6
- 2022 PFF Grade: 83.6
- 2021 PFF Grade: 89.8
- 2020 PFF Grade:79.1
College career stats: Alabama
- Games started: 41.
- Tackles: 204 tackles (113 solo)
- Tackles for Loss: 58.5
- Sacks: 34 sacks (200 yards)
- QB Pressures: 207
- Forced Fumbles; 1
- Interceptions: 1 (25 yd. TD)
REVIEW (per PFF : https://www.pff.com/nfl/players/will-anderson/123903/draft-profile)
As a true freshman in 2020, Anderson led the nation with 60 pressures. And in 2021, he accomplished the same feat with 82 pressures. While he didn’t extend that streak in 2022, his 64 pressures were still tied for fifth. His 207 career pressures are 55 more than the next closest defender over the past three years, and his 37 sacks are 10 more. Not only that, his 91.5 run-defense grade in the span trails only Aidan Hutchinson among FBS edge defenders. You can lock Anderson in as a top-five pick come April.
- Elite first step. Gets off the line like a wide receiver.
- Has the flexibility that makes life so much easier on the edge.
- Doesn’t need to come off the field and production won’t dip. He averaged 734 snaps per season.
- Pass-rushing toolbox is limited. Didn’t need many moves to be successful.
- Not particularly versatile. Unlikely to kick inside
Where he wins: Bend or burst
It’s a deadly combination. You won’t find too many edge rushers who can match him in both, and the ones who can are the elite players at the position.
What’s his role: Every-down edge
Plug him in and don’t worry about subbing him out. Anderson is reliable as can be and will likely have to be accounted for with chips off the edge in time.
What can he Improve: Pass-rush diversity
Anderson didn’t have to be a technician to win at the collegiate level. He showed great hand usage already, but refining it into a complete pass-rushing package will make him nearly unblockable.
- Career: Two-time Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner — only second player to do so in award’s history
- Career: Two-time Unanimous first-team All-American
- Career: Two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year
- Career: Two-time first-team All-SEC
- 2022: Chuck Bednarik Award
- 2022: Lott IMPACT Trophy
- 2022: Rotary Lombardi Award
- 2020: National Freshman of the Year (Football Writers Association of America)
- 2020: Freshman All-America (FWAA, 247Sports and The Athletic)
- 2020: SEC All-Freshman Team
- 2020: Second-team All-SEC (Associated Press)
Mel Kiper’s Big Board:
2. Will Anderson Jr., OLB, Alabama
HT: 6-3 | WT: 253 | Previously: 2
Anderson’s sack numbers were down (10) from his historic 2021 season (17.5), and he ranked sixth in the country with 19.5 tackles for loss after being No. 1 (34.5) in 2021. He had a stunning 130 pressures over the past two seasons, which is 45 more than the second-best defender (San Jose State’s Viliami Fehoko). He is a dominant and complete edge rusher who might have been the No. 1 pick this past April if he had been eligible for the draft. Anderson doesn’t take plays off, is versatile and plays the run well. He’s explosive off the line of scrimmage. Nick Saban & Co. used him as a stand-up outside linebacker, as a down defensive end and even at tackle, where he can blow up guards and centers at the snap. Anderson also went through every drill at the combine, showing he’s not afraid of competition.
Nolan Smith, Georgia
- Age: 22
- Height: 6-2
- Weight: 238
- 40 Time: 4.39
- Vertical Jump: 41.5”
- 2022 PFF Grade: 83.8
- 2021 PFF Grade: 85.0
- 2020 PFF Grade: 68.2
College career stats: Georgia
- Games started: 41.
- Tackles: 101 tackles ( 63 solo)
- Tackles for Loss: 20
- Sacks: 12.5 sacks
- QB Pressures: 84
- Forced Fumbles: 3
- Interceptions: 1
REVIEW (per PFF) https://www.pff.com/draft/big-board?season=2023
Nolan Smith was the top-ranked high school recruit in 2019. While he wasn’t disappointing at Georgia, he never quite lived up to that hype due to injuries. 2021 was his best season for the Bulldogs, as he finished with an 85.0 grade and a 90.6 run-defense grade. That year, he recorded 55 total tackles and seven sacks. Smith’s 2022 season was cut short, unfortunately, but he will likely still be a first-round pick based on potential alone.
- Lightning off the edge. He flies off the ball and can track down ball carriers to the sideline.
- Bend and dip are a big plus. He can play at an angle.
- Modern-day run defender. Physical one-on-one and is able to play both sides of option runs.
- So small for the position with a thin frame. Life will only get harder for him in NFL.
- Power rushes die. Not a pocket-collapser.
- Tore pec Oct. 29 against Florida.
Where he wins: Quickness
Smith could have gotten to quarterbacks at will in a scheme that allowed him that sort of freedom. Instead, he turned his lethal first step into being a serious difference-maker in the run game.
What’s his role: 3-4 OLB/wide edge
While he can likely take on tight ends head-up, Smith probably can’t venture too far inside of that without his size becoming an issue. He’s still an every-down player despite that.
What can he Improve: Size
There wasn’t a single starting NFL edge defender listed at under 240 pounds last season. Smith looks like he can overcome that on tape, but he will be an outlier.
Mel Kiper’s Big Board:
15. Nolan Smith, OLB, Georgia
HT: 6-2 | WT: 238 | Previously: NR
Welcome back to the Big Board, Mr. Smith. I had him in my top 25 during the season, before he tore his right pectoral muscle and missed the rest of the season. Smith is another rising prospect from the combine — he ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash and had a 41.5-inch vertical. As I noted in my post-combine list, he is the second-heaviest player to run a sub-4.4 40 and have a vertical jump of more than 40 inches since 2006 (Vernon Davis is the other). Smith had just 6.5 sacks over the past two seasons, but an NFL team could fall in love with his traits. He has also gotten rave reviews about his interviews with coaches and execs in the pre-draft process.
CFP National championship 2022 #3 Alabama vs. #1 Georgia
2022 PFF Grades:
Pass Rush Grade:
- Anderson: 85.8
- Smith: 74.9
Pass Rush Win Rate:
- Anderson: 20.4 %
- Smith: 25.5%
- Anderson: 86.7
- Smith 82.4
Run Defense Win Rate:
- Anderson: 6.6%
- Smith: 14.9%
True Pass Set Rush Grade:
- Anderson: 88.1
- Smith: 77.4
Will Anderson Jr., is a star player who consistently wins with physical power and strength —- but the question that keeps nagging at me is of just how suited Anderson is to playing in space. Like this play, for example:
He shrugs off future top 10 pick Will Anderson Jr. here. pic.twitter.com/K63rSNvpZd— Nick Penticoff (@NickPenticoff) March 18, 2023
For the Cardinals, I think Isaiah Simmons is better suited to play 4-3 SOLB. Thus, I would prefer Will Anderson Jr. to play 4-3 DE —- but —- the pressing question is —- is he a tweener at that position, as so many scouts suggest?
Could drafting Will Anderson signal a shift from a 4-3 back to a 3-4?
What impresses me about Nolan Smith is how flat-out tenacious he is versus the run, both at the point of attack and out in open spaces. In terms of pass rush, I believe that Smith has the most impressive bend and speed in this draft class. But, the main concerns about Smith are his lower than ideal weight and durability.
Just the same, I went back and looked at Haason Reddick’s Combine numbers. Haason checked in at 6-1, 237 and posted a 4.53 and 36.5” vertical.
At virtually the same height and weight as Haason, Nolan Smith (6-2, 238) posted a 4.39 40and 41.5” vertical. These numbers would strongly suggest that Nolan Smith, in the NFL, could be a faster and slightly more explosive version of Haason Reddick.
Ten Yard Splits:
- Nolan Smith: 1.52
- Haason Reddick: 1.56
- Will Anderson, Jr.: 1.61
Who is better suited to play Haason Reddick’s 4-3 SOLB role in JG’s defense?
This poll is closed
Will Anderson jr.
A number of scouts claim that Will Anderson is not suited to play DE in a BASE 4-3, that he’s better suited to play 4-3 OLB or 3-4 OLB. Do you agree?
This poll is closed
PFF 2023 NFL Draft Defensive Line Prospect Superlatives:
- Best Hands: Will Anderson, Jr.
- Best Get-Off: Nolan Smith
It would be interesting to know JG’s 2023 NFL Draft wish list. He might me zeroed in on Will Anderson Sr. But, the question is —-are there prospects like Nolan Smith whom JG believes are a niftier fit for his 4-3 defense —- which would also enable the Cardinals to trade down in Round 1 to acquire a bonanza of picks and players?
What do you think?