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Will Anderson: Chasing Bama Immortality

Will Anderson

Will Anderson

Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban has accomplished so much in Tuscaloosa. In his resume, if you follow the sport, you are very much aware of his dominance. One thing that may surprise you is during the Alabama Dynasty since 2008, Alabama has had only two men before Will Anderson Jr. last season have double digits in sacks in a single season during Nick Saban's tenure in Tuscaloosa: Wallace Gilberry in 2007 and Tim Williams in 2015.

Anderson's 17.5 sack 2021 season at most schools would be the school record.

At Alabama, though, he only got two-thirds there.

As with every defender in Alabama, they all chase the immortal Derrick Thomas, who was a one-person wrecking crew.

Anderson was just half a sack away from Derrick Thomas's second-best season of 18 sacks in the 1987 season.

Thomas has in his immortal 1988 season Alabama and the unofficial NCAA record with 27 sacks in a season (the NCAA did not begin officially tracking sacks as a statistic until the 2000 season – it recognizes Terrell Suggs 24 sacks from the 2002 season as the official record). With Anderson coming back for a junior season, he has an opportunity to chase immortality and reach Derrick Thomas level.

Anderson Breakdown

In the recent Farrell Files for the 5 Defensive Players That Could Win the Heisman, Anderson was ranked No. 1.

It should come as no one's surprise the 2021 Nagurski Award winner and Unanimous All-American, who stands at 6'4" 243-pound linebacker, is currently the No. 1 Edge Rusher per Pro Football Focus.

Anderson reminds me of what the knocks were on former Pitt Defensive Lineman and current Los Angeles Ram Aaron Donald. Donald wasn't your prototypical giant freak of a defensive lineman that would have gotten attraction from high-end Big Ten and SEC schools; he is currently 6'1" and 280 pounds, but what made Donald special and off the charts was the freakishly strong compact frame that allowed him to maneuver, bend, and bully lineman offensively.

Anderson does the same at the EDGE position for Alabama.

Anderson, an exceptional athlete, has a strong, compact frame with deceptive strength and power capacity with his more petite frame. His hand combat skill allows him to control reps and, on a burst, can execute knock-back power at the point of attack.

Anderson not only can execute strong engagement, his ability to generate upper-body torque and use it to rip blocker is a key asset to game violently.

Like Donald, he possesses amazing leg strength and can sustain leg drive on power rushes and drive blockers forward.

Anderson's continuous high motor is the foundation of his fantastic play, and his plethora of moves to engage linemen gives them fits.

Anderson is two pressures away from passing Alabama Defensive Lineman Jonathan Allen in career pressure; Anderson has done him in 28 games versus Allen's 56 games.

Anderson's high intellect to read the play and that incredible burst on his first step is something to marvel at and something I haven't seen from an Alabama linebacker at that position since Derrick Thomas.

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"Will's a great competitor, so every situation that he's in, whether it's practice, regardless of what it is, he always gives 100%. Sets a great example for the other guys on the team. He's a really good leader. I think his knowledge of the defense and the things we're going to ask him to do, he did very well last year. Hopefully we can continue to make progress in a lot of areas."

- Nick Saban

Tuscaloosa News

The Immortal: Derrick Thomas

Thomas is the gold standard for pass rushers at the University of Alabama; 52 career sacks in his career mark for Thomas.

A game that shaped Thomas's legacy was the 1988 encounter against Penn State. In a game, AL.com rated his greatest performance at Alabama and only second to his NFL record seven-sack game.

Thomas, that game was the reason Alabama defeated Penn State in a defensive struggle 8-3. He had 9 QB Hurries, eight solo tackles, three sacks, and a safety.

Thomas said of the safety from the Allentown Morning Call, "I just beat the tackle off the corner. When the quarterback dropped, I was right there."

Thomas possessed all the skills; his quickness, burst, athleticism, play recognition, and ability to shed blockers were top-notch skills. When an Alabama newspaper conducted a poll of the 1980s, Derrick Thomas was named Defensive Player of the Decade.

"(Derrick Thomas) just did super human things and he did them all the time. Just an incredible player. . . . Derrick is the best player I ever had the privilege of coaching. He changed the game in one play and he could take over a game."

- Bill Curry

via TIDE 100.9

The Comparison

The recognition and comparisons become appropriate when you achieve what Will Anderson Jr. has done.

When Anderson was approached about the comparison to Derrick Thomas, he humbly replied, "Just to be mentioned with his name and all the success he's had here, and just to be even talked about with his name is a blessing."

I firmly feel that if your greatness measuring stick is the sack record, Anderson may not get near Derrick Thomas's record, and then the comparison is pointless for those folks.

If you appreciate what Will Anderson has done since his first-year student season of 2020, Tuscaloosa's level of play hasn't been seen in that position since Derrick Thomas.

When Thomas played, teams ran more a pro-style or triple/power option attack, and the game was more compact.

Anderson plays in an era where offenses can get 90 plays a game, spread the entire field, and the amount of coverage being asked of him is just as great.

Ultimately, I feel Thomas's standards of 27 sacks and 52 career sacks are safe, but when you talk about the greatest pass rushers in Crimson Tide history, that table just got a second seat.