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IDP Rookie Spotlight: Will Anderson Jr.
Aron Evers puts the Alabama product and likely top 5 pick alongside other highly-drafted edge rushers to determine what we should expect in year 1.
Remember 2020? It was a wild year for everyone and football, like the rest of the world, was thrown into turmoil. We had conferences start their schedule late, some only played half of theirs, and other conferences didn't play at all. For all the chaos, though, it was also the year we got introduced to Will Anderson Jr. In the three years since, it’s been a treat to watch what Mr. Anderson can do on the football field.
A projected top 5 pick in the upcoming draft, Anderson was the 2021 and 2022 Nagurski Trophy winner, the 2022 Bednarik Award winner (both awards for being the best college defensive player in the nation), and finished as Alabama's 2nd all-time sack and TFL leader behind Derrick Thomas. But for all his accomplishments in college, how does Anderson stack up against other elite edge rushers from past classes? Given that, what can we possibly expect from him in his rookie season playing a position that is notorious for being slower to develop than others?
Let’s begin our analysis with a chart comparing Anderson to other top 10 picks in the NFL draft at EDGE and their pass-rushing stats for their final 2 years in college:
Shout out to PFF for the stats, especially Jon Macri for providing me with the Pass Rush Grade across 2 seasons, as players are usually only graded on a per-game/season basis.
Looking at the numbers, Anderson should stack up well in all raw counting stats due to the fact he played the most games across his sophomore and junior seasons. Hutchinson and Thibodeaux took a hit in that department due to the COVID impact in their sophomore seasons, and Nick Bosa only played 3 games his junior year before sitting out the rest to rehab from core muscle surgery and focus on the draft.
One name you won’t see on this list? The #1 overall pick in 2022, Travon Walker. I left him out on purpose because he was an absolute reach by the Jaguars. Walker wasn’t a good prospect—he was just an athletic freak who measured and tested off the charts at the Underwear Olympics (AKA the NFL Combine). He finished at the bottom in all of the above stats and added nothing to the sample except to show he was an outlier, and in my personal opinion, shouldn’t have been a top 20 pick, let alone #1.
Returning to Young, if you break it down to a per-game basis, Anderson really shines, finishing in the top 2 in all 3 categories: pressures, sacks, and hurries. (Side note, damn what a prospect Chase Young was. I hope we get to see him healthy and dominant again.) So whether you’re looking at his cumulative stats or at his per-game output, Anderson was dominant in his final two years at Alabama. I’m comfortable saying he’s the best edge prospect we’ve seen since Young in 2020.
So that’s my NFL Draft analysis of Anderson… but what about fantasy football? A question many of you might be wondering is: “If I take Anderson in my rookie draft, am I going to have to wait a couple years before he pays back my investment?” That’s a fair question! But history would say “no.” Outside of Thibodeaux, those players who showed to be elite in college and went as top 10 picks in the NFL Draft actually performed well in their rookie year (excluding Walker, of course).
The 8 other players in our chart averaged 14 games played, 12.91 PPG (by Big 3 Scoring), 8.5 sacks, and just shy of 17 splash plays in their rookie year. For splash plays, I’m including passes defended, forced fumbles, fumbles recovered, safeties, interceptions, and tackles for loss. Based on Anderson’s college production, I expect these numbers to be well within his range of outcomes (assuming health).
When we talk about fantasy points, the main driver is opportunity (or snaps). Currently, the top contenders for his services look like Houston, Arizona, and Seattle. All three teams are talent-poor along the defensive line so Anderson should see a massive snap volume in year 1. The other 8 top 10 picks from our sample played, on average, 725 of their team’s snaps in their rookie year (74.6%). Landing with any of those three teams, 700 snaps is a safe baseline to assume if he’s healthy.
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Both Arizona and Seattle lack a true blue-chip pass rusher (Nwosu is good but not blue-chip), and if the Texans did get wild at #2, Anderson would immediately become their best defensive player. On a recent episode of The IDP Show, Mike Woellert brought up draft bust Aaron Curry (#4 overall in 2009) as a reason for his hesitance to crown Anderson too early. Could Anderson be the next Curry? Sure, but as Adam pointed out on that same episode, he could also be the next Micah Parsons.
So, when you’re in the middle of the 1st round, staring at receivers who’ve landed in New England or Baltimore, or trying to pick between an assortment of RBs with 4th round draft capital, ask yourself: “Why not Will Anderson?”
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