Alabama EDGE Will Anderson Jr. is the best prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft. Anderson has been so good for so long that he would have been the No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft had he been eligible. One NFL franchise is extremely fortunate to reserve the opportunity to draft Anderson later this week. Anderson presents the cleanest evaluation possible as a soon-to-be Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Anderson was a key contributor to a National Championship-winning Alabama Crimson Tide squad that was littered with five-star prospects and future first-round picks. Anderson, who managed to stick out in a sea full of talent, is also a two-time Bronko Nagurski winner and Chuck Bednarik Award winner. Anderson will go down as one of the greatest players in Alabama history.
Anderson is an on-field superstar. He’s also an intelligent and caring individual off the field that loves his teammates. I recently had a conversation with Anderson that allowed me to get to know him on a deeper, personal level. We discussed his upbringing in Hampton, Georgia, a town with a population smaller than 10,000. Anderson discussed his pass-rush arsenal, which Alabama teammate he’d trust to have his back in war, coach Nick Saban’s tendencies, and so much more.
JM: What was life like growing up in Hampton, Georgia? It’s a small town with a population under 10,000.
Will Anderson Jr: It was fun. I lived in a neighborhood that was surrounded by a whole bunch of other neighborhoods. That means my friends and I all grew up within close proximity of one another. We used to hang out in our neighborhoods. We bounced around the different areas and had a lot of fun. It was a simple upbringing. I love Hampton, Georgia.
JM: You continued to develop as a football player locally at Dutchtown. You arrived at Alabama in 2020 and earned a starting job as a true freshman. It’s essentially unheard of at Alabama. What was it about your mentality that allowed you to play such a crucial role from a young age?
Will Anderson Jr: I would just credit my approach coming in. I wanted to separate myself from everybody else. I took a first guy in, last guy out kind of approach. I did all of the necessary things to make sure I was maximizing my efforts.
I made sure that my sacrifices were pushing me in the right direction. I took that time to actually learn the playbook and understand our defense. I also put the work in to get bigger, stronger, and faster. I had some amazing coaches that helped push me along the way as well. Everybody at Alabama was so helpful.
To summarize, I took an approach that probably wasn’t common of a regular freshman. I wanted to compete and have fun. That’s exactly what I did. My sacrifices put me in a position to earn a starting role.
JM: You were learning from veterans like Patrick Surtain II, Christian Barmore, Phidarian Mathis, and so many others. How did those vets help show you the ropes?
Will Anderson Jr: They helped me a ton. They had confidence in me from my very first day. They were legitimately excited about having me on the defense. That made me feel great. It gave me the confidence as a young guy to go out there and play loose. I knew I could be myself. That’s exactly what they wanted me to be.
I think they respected me because they saw how much hard work I was putting in. I knew those guys were in my corner. That helped me bring me up to speed while I was getting acclimated.
My lockermate was actually Dylan Moses. He was a really good mentor for me throughout that freshman season. He used to give me all kinds of advice on how to deal with adversity and things of that nature. He helped me learn the playbook. He helped me watch film in the beginning. I’m really thankful for Dylan Moses.
JM: You’ve had so many amazing teammates throughout the years. What will forever be your biggest takeaway from that National Championship triumph?
Will Anderson Jr: That’s a great question. I had to think about that one. I’ll never forget that confetti coming down on us (laughs). That year was a bit of a different year compared to the rest. It always is [different] when you win a championship. We put in so much hard work.
We didn’t know who we were going to play against. Our mentality was just to take things one step at a time. Play the game, not the occasion. Play whoever is in front of us. We brought that same mentality to practice every single day.
We knew how hard we worked that year. Seeing that confetti rain down on us, it felt like the ultimate payoff. We made angels in that confetti (laughs). It’s difficult to explain that feeling.
JM: It sounds like the ultimate brotherhood. Playing on an absolutely loaded defense that was littered with five-star prospects means your collegiate football experience was different from most prospects, and you’ve touched on the special bond you all shared. How did playing on that defense help mold the Will Anderson Jr. we see before us today?
Will Anderson Jr: It molded me in every way possible. It helped my development. When you have guys like Dylan Moses, Phil Mathis, Christian Barmore, Patrick Surtain II, and every other veteran on our defense, I just soaked up so much knowledge from them.
I honestly feel like I took something from every single one of them and implemented what I learned into my game. It helped me become a better leader. It molded me into the player I am today. I paid attention to how those guys prepared for a game. I paid attention to how they approached and treated people.
I have to give them a big shout-out every single chance I get. They played a tremendous role in my success and everything I had going on at the time.
JM: Hats off to them. Alabama asked you to play multiple roles and positions across their defensive line. How do you think that experience can help prepare you for the next level?
Will Anderson Jr: That helped me out a lot. I think everyone I’ve spoken with throughout this process can see and understand that Alabama made me a very versatile player. It helped me go out there and play any position.
I did it in college. I got a taste of it. I did it at one of the highest levels for the best program in the nation. I’m ready to do the same thing for my NFL defense. It was a great opportunity for me to step into some roles that I hadn’t played before. I had to go out there and learn some new techniques. It helped my game improve so much.
JM: You played EDGE, 3-tech, and 4-tech. Alabama asked you to attack the weak spots of a defense and disrupt plays with physicality. What was your favorite hat to wear?
Will Anderson Jr: All of them really. Alabama did such a good job of putting me in positions to make plays. I was willing to do whatever it took to help the team win games. I wear all of those hats as tight as possible.
I wore every hat proudly. You know what I mean? Whatever role they needed me to play, I never took it lightly. I always wanted to go out there and dominate. I wanted to wreak havoc no matter what position they asked me to play.
JM: How would you describe your pass-rush arsenal? I’m looking for signature go-tos, counters, and so on.
Will Anderson Jr: I’m a big speed-to-power guy first and foremost. I like the Fork Lift and Bull Swipe. I love to counter to the inside with a swim move as well. That’s basically my approach and what I do best as a pass rusher.
JM: You depart Alabama with 34.5 sacks and 62 tackles for loss, trailing only Derrick Thomas in school history. It’s almost impossible to catch Thomas’ record of 52.0 sacks. Is there a part of you that wishes you caught the record?
Will Anderson Jr: Breaking records and things of that nature, it’s cool, but it’s not something I really think about, to be honest with you. I’ve never thought of individual records like that. I think I was just so laser-focused throughout my entire time at Alabama.
Breaking records was never on my mind, you know what I’m saying? There’s a humbling aspect involved when you first arrive at Alabama. I knew I was going to be developed and coached the right way. I knew we were going to compete for National Championships. That’s what was on my mind.
The last two years I was at Alabama, it was about doing our job and having fun. The rest was always going to take care of itself. History is going to be history. If you make history, that’s great, it’s a blessing. But for me, it was about having fun, being developed, and winning titles.
Alabama gave me an opportunity to play the game I love so much.
JM: This pre-draft process is a long one and it opens prospects up to criticism. If anybody tries to critique your game, and it’s hard to do so, they’ll say coach Saban schemed up some pressures, etc. How do you respond?
Will Anderson Jr: At the end of the day, coaches are there to put their players in the best possible situation to have success and make plays. Our staff did that at the highest level imaginable at Alabama.
I’ve spoken with many coaches throughout this process that feel like it’s the same way at the next level. I’ve spent time going over NFL defenses. Coach Saban was a defensive guru so he understands how to stop opposing offenses. He understands how to put his players in advantageous positions. There will be more of the same at the next level.
I never questioned coach Saban. I just went out there and did my job. If that’s what they wanted me to do, I went out there and did it. Did I have some input? Yes, because the staff trusted my football IQ.
At the end of the day, we’re all trying to do whatever we think is best to go out there and win the game. The goal was always to put our best players in the best possible positions. Together, we all created value for one another.
JM: What was the best game you ever played in an Alabama jersey and why?
Will Anderson Jr: I would probably say that Mississippi State game during my sophomore season. I think I had like 4.0 sacks or something like that. That’s one of the games where everything was just clicking for me.
JM: The competition level is always high at Alabama. Who were some of the best tackles you’ve practiced and played against?
Will Anderson Jr: I have to start with Alabama. Teammates like Evan Neal, Alex Leatherwood, Deonte Brown, and Landon Dickerson. I remember playing against Notre Dame’s offensive line during my freshman season. Georgia had an amazing offensive line during my sophomore year. This past year, I would probably say Tennessee. We always played against great competition.
JM: You had so many amazing teammates at Alabama. I have to put you on the spot. If you were going to war tomorrow and could only bring one with you, who would you bring and why?
Will Anderson Jr: That’s a tough question. I would have to say Brian Branch though. I grew up with Brian Branch. We’ve been through it all together. We’ve been doing this entire pre-draft process together as well. We’ve definitely been through some tough days together at Alabama as well.
We both leaned on each other at Alabama. We got through tough times together. We’ve seen everything together. We’ve been through everything together. That’s how we feel. I can’t believe we’re going through this process together. We played little league basketball and football together.
We’re in the same position now. It’s a blessing. He’s one guy that I know we’ll forever have my back. And I definitely have his as well.
JM: We love that bond you two share. You completed Top 30 visits with the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions. Have there been any other visits, private workouts, or recent Zoom meetings?
Will Anderson Jr: I’ve had quite a few Zoom meetings. I can’t even keep up really (laughs). They’ve all been great. I’ve enjoyed speaking with all of the coaches. All of my meetings have gone well. We’ve spent a lot of time going over plays together. It’s been excellent. I can’t complain.
JM: I’ve really appreciated your time today. This conversation has highlighted why Will Anderson Jr. is the best prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft. Why should a team select Will Anderson Jr. with a top-three selection this week?
Will Anderson Jr: They’re going to get a complete player that’s versatile. I’m the total package. I can play any position and do my job at a high level. I’m going to uplift my teammates and make sure we’re all having fun. We’re going to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Will Anderson Jr. is a relentless player.
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