The Los Angeles Rams can get an early idea on who can help defensively in Indianapolis this week, with the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine set to begin.
Linebacker is officially near the forefront with Bobby Wagner set to become free to sign elsewhere. But if it’s not inside linebacker the Rams are scrutinizing, one draft expert tipped this intriguing athlete to the Rams who’s been called a “unique linebacker prospect” who comes with the versatility to line up in Wagner’s old spot or attack quarterbacks off the edge.
The prospect is Drew Sanders of Arkansas, now labeled the 36th pick to the Rams by Trevor Sikkema of Pro Football Focus on Monday, February 27.
Sanders Produced ‘Eye-Catching Production’ in Talent-Heavy SEC
Sanders was once a prized five-star signing for Nick Saban and Alabama as the No. 1 athlete for the class of 2020 and 247Sports’ No. 1 prospect in the always deep football pool of Texas.
The towering 6-foot-5, 232-pound Sanders not only starred at Ryan High School in Denton, Texas, but earned a comparison to Dallas Cowboys star linebacker Leighton Vander Esch by 247Sports national recruiting analyst Gabe Brooks.
But his production went up when he arrived to the University of Arkansas — producing 103 tackles, 40 solo stops, 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception in his lone season with the Razorbacks. Following that breakout campaign, nfl.com draft expert Lance Zierlein wrote this evaluation of Sanders:
“Unique linebacker prospect with the physical traits, athleticism and skill set to be deployed as an inside linebacker or a stand-up edge rusher. The former five-star Alabama signee transferred to Arkansas for the 2022 season and posted eye-catching production with the Razorbacks. He plays with good technique in take-ons and has plenty of pursuit range, but he’s still finding his footing with his run fits and tackle consistency. He’s a tough out for interior protection as a blitzing linebacker and has natural rush talent to hunt quarterbacks off the edge. Sanders’ athletic gifts, versatility and toughness could help him become a highly impactful playmaker with Pro Bowl upside.”
The latter part of Zierlein’s breakdown has got to pique the interest of Ram fans who not only hope for the replacement for “B Wagz,” but also get some pass rush help for Aaron Donald and edge rusher Leonard Floyd. Sanders is capable of giving a two-for-one special in the “Rams House.”
Deep Dive Into Versatility
Again, Arkansas plugged Sanders in multiple spots. Per PFF, here’s where Sanders was aligned:
- Defensive line: 108 snaps in 2022. Then 270 and 48 in 2021 and 2020, respectively, at Alabama.
- Slot defender: 39 total plays including 26 with Arkansas.
- Corner: Two plays with the Razorbacks.
- In the box: 715 total alignments — 710 during the ’22 season.
He was also involved on 148 pass rushing snaps and 356 plays when he needed to drop into coverage. But his ability to close made him a pass rush specialist in Fayetteville:
Sanders can additionally bring an old school brutality attitude to a defense as seen here:
But with his height, Sanders can use that to his advantage when he’s in coverage:
There will be questions surrounding Sanders, though, as he makes his way to Indy for the combine. Among them will be if he can read misdirection plays and not get fooled by them (a weakness of his last season) and if he can deliver more than one impactful season — as 2022 was the only time he was a full-time starter.
But the long, explosive and versatile ‘backer comes with first round potential. He could be a gift pick at 36th overall to the Rams if he falls that far — giving the Rams a new chess piece for defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.