The very early consensus shows that Will Anderson is the most popular prospect for the Chicago Bears with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Alabama edge rusher has been high on NFL radars since his strong freshman year in 2020, and with how well he has played over the last two seasons, it would be a massive surprise if Anderson fell out of the top 3 picks in the upcoming draft.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Bears trade out of the first overall pick, and if they do, exactly where they end up with their new first-round selection. If they remain with their selection in the top 3 — or potentially, the top 4 — Anderson will be the popular selection most linked to Chicago.
I’ve publicly scouted Anderson’s strengths and weaknesses from a tape perspective, and I firmly believe that tape is the best way to measure how good a player is. That said, the rise of analytics in football is undeniable, and it plays a growing role in how NFL teams evaluate talent. With this in mind, I decided to use SIS DataHub to look at how Anderson has fared in advanced analytics over the last two seasons.
Among FBS defenders, Anderson tied for 10th with 10 total sacks in the 2022 season. Of his 10 sacks, 8 of them came from legitimate pass-rushing wins, while the other two were unblocked. He tied for second with 53 pressures, and his 31 hurries tied for ninth in the nation. Most impressively, though, he led the nation with 32 quarterback hits.
To try and reduce inflation from off-ball linebackers, who have a smaller pass-rushing sample size and generally get easier blitzing assignments, I decided to look at the 94 FBS defenders who had at least 30 pressures in 2022, with Anderson obviously being one of them. Among those defenders, he tied for 18th with a pressure rate of 15.3%, and he tied for 28th with a sack rate of 2.9%. It’s worth noting that SIS DataHub doesn’t have accessible information regarding double-team or chip-block percentages.
Some of the advanced pass-rushing statistics weren’t as kind to Anderson this year. Using the same 94 players to meet the aforementioned pressure mark, here’s how he placed in key analytics:
- 0.040 Points Saved per rush (T-64th)
- 0.006 Points Above Average per rush (T-59th)
- 35.3% positive pass rush rate (T-61st)
However, Anderson truly shined as a run defender from an analytics perspective this year. It was tougher to filter him out among all FBS defender, seeing as though he’s listed as a linebacker, a position that includes every off-ball linebacker in the nation. That naturally means those players will have much more tackles against the run than an edge rusher. I had to narrow the criteria down to just SEC defenders to find where Anderson stood, but the results are still very impressive.
This is among over 200 defenders in the SEC:
- -0.4 average tackle depth in yards (T-3rd in SEC)
- 0.060 Points Saved per run play (T-47th)
- 6.476 Points Above Average per play (30th)
By those accounts, Anderson still had an above-average year in 2022, which is encouraging when you consider how much extra attention he received along Alabama’s defensive front. That said, his 2021 season was truly the stuff of legend.
It takes a lot for a defender to place fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting, but that’s what Anderson did last season. He finished the year with 101 total tackles, 17.5 sacks and 31 tackles for a loss. His TFL total led the FBS, with second-place Devin Lloyd being a whole 9 tackles for a loss behind him. Anderson’s sack totals also led the nation.
Of his 17.5 sacks, just 2 were unblocked. His 47 hurries placed second in the FBS, and his 81 pressures led the nation, as did his 40 quarterback hits. Excluding off-ball linebackers, Anderson’s pressure rate of 18.3% placed fourth in the FBS, and his 3.8% sack rate tied for third.
Here’s how he fared from an advanced analytics perspective, with his ranking among edge rushers listed first, followed by his ranking among all FBS defenders who met the 30-pressure criteria:
- 0.101 Points Saved per rush (5th, 9th)
- 0.063 Points Above Average per rush (5th, 10th)
- 35.4% positive pass rush rate (T-49th among defenders)
Anderson also dominated against the run. Since he had more tackles in 2021, he qualifies among all FBS defenders, and his information was much easier to filter out.
- 0.3 average tackle depth in yards (1st in FBS among qualified defenders)
- 0.123 Points Saved per run play (2nd)
- 27.685 Total Points Above Average (2nd)*
* A glitch in the system didn’t show Points Above Average per play
In so many senses, Anderson was one of the most well-rounded defenders in college football in 2021. Even as the opposition focused heavily on him in the last two seasons, he proved himself as not just arguably the top overall defender in the nation, but potentially the top overall player.
The analytics show that Anderson was better in 2021 than he was in 2022, but he was still a well above-average player this season. I’ll clarify that it’s worth noting some of these statistics do not factor in double-team blocks percentage, and I do not know the exact numbers Anderson and other defenders face. That is an important bit of context that’s missing in some cases, but the numbers generally back up what the tape shows: he is damn good.
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