Will Anderson would bring versatility Cardinals greatly need in turnaround

Mar 2, 2023, 2:59 PM

Versatility is one of four pillars Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon is building his foundation on as he embarks on his first year in the desert.

Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. is one of the top 2023 NFL Draft prospects that fits that thinking to a tee.

Viewed as a top-3 pick in April’s draft, Anderson is a likely candidate to join Arizona’s ranks, especially if the first two picks ahead of the Cardinals result in a pair of quarterbacks.

Gannon and the new Cardinals regime isn’t lost on Anderson, either, having watched how the former defensive coordinator operated the past two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“You can see what the coach did at Philadelphia. He had his guys on the edge going,” Anderson told reporters at the 2023 NFL Draft Combine on Wednesday. “That’s something that I really like — get on the edge and go. So I’m very excited about that.”

In Gannon’s final season as Eagles DC, four defenders finished with at least 11 sacks. Leading the way was linebacker and former Cardinal Hasson Reddick, who posted 16.

You don’t have to dive too far into Anderson’s resume to see why he is projected as one of the top picks in the 2023 draft class.

Following a ho-hum freshman year that saw the linebacker record seven sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble, Anderson turned it up a notch or three behind 17.5 sacks, 31 tackles for loss and three passes defensed as a sophomore. He also saw his tackles nearly double from 52 in 2020 to 101 in Year 2.

And while he didn’t register that same type of output as a junior, Anderson still wrapped up his college career with 10 sacks, 17 tackles for loss and an interception that was returned for a 25-yard touchdown.

It’s a credit to Anderson’s work ethic, Alabama’s no-days-off mentality and trying to emulate Nick Bosa, Von Miller and Khalil Mack.

“Being at Alabama made me very versatile, dropping in coverage, playing a four- or five-technique, six-technique, seven. All that type of stuff,” Anderson said. “When I dissect myself I see myself as a very versatile player that can do just about anything.

“That’s thanks to (Alabama head coach Nick Saban). He trusted me a lot. He saw a lot in me, he saw the potential and it helped me mold the player I am today.”

Anderson on Wednesday said he had met with seven teams during the first three days of the combine.

And while it was initially reported that Anderson was going to participate in a limited number of the workouts planned this week, the linebacker told reporters that he plans to do just about everything in terms of on-field workouts.

For a Cardinals organization needing to hit on their third overall pick, every bit of information helps.

As new general manager Monti Ossenfort and Gannon have said this offseason, it’s all about finding the right type of players who are focused on putting the team first with egos checked at the door.

That screams Anderson, who could come in and compete right away at a pass-rushing position within coordinator Nick Rallis’ defense that needs a facelift with OLB Markus Golden the only known starter on top of living that we-not-me NFL lifestyle.

“Nothing has to motivate me to get ready to go play a football game. It’s already in me,” Anderson said. “That’s how much I love the game. The biggest thing for me is jumping up and down with my brothers celebrating and making plays. That’s what football is all about.

“That’s why I love it because you get to make those memories with those guys in the locker room and long-lasting relationships with those guys and that’s why I love the game so much.”

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