DE1: Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
A lot of draft outlets have Will Anderson Jr. listed as a linebacker right now, and I simply don’t see it. He has No. 1 overall pick-level talents, and those talents will be put to far better use as a defensive end. Anderson is perhaps the most impressive player I’ve seen so far in this class, and at the very least, he’ll be breathing down the neck of either Stroud or Young for that top draft spot. What sets Anderson apart from the other defensive end, and most other linebacker prospects, in this class is his elite blend of athleticism, explosiveness, motor, and technique.
Will Anderson Jr. wants to put you in the ground. He lives to get after the ball carrier, no matter the cost, and he is going to give the proverbial 110%, 110% of the proverbial time. You don’t get that out of many prospects who have the physical ability that Anderson does. He never, ever stops trying, and he plays late through the echoes of the whistle. He always wants it, and he always gets what he wants, either through sheer force of will, or by outsmarting you when coming off the edge. It’s like Anderson is an elite athlete, who doesn’t know he’s an elite athlete. It’s awesome to watch him go to work, because there’s never a dull moment.
It’s tough for me to find a single meaningful hole in Anderson’s game. He doesn’t bend awfully well, and he’s not the biggest defensive end at 6’3 and about 240 pounds, but he makes up for that with everything else. Maybe his hand technique leaves a little bit to be desired at points when he gets ahead of himself? But his athleticism covers up on the plays he doesn’t excel with technique. I wouldn’t call Anderson a perfect prospect, simply due to his lack of size for a prototypical defensive end, but he’s the first defensive end I’ve deemed even somewhat worthy of a No. 1 overall pick since Chase Young, and I like him a good bit more than I liked Young in 2020.
DE2: Myles Murphy, Clemson
The line between Clemson’s Myles Murphy and current Notre Dame defender Isaiah Foskey is, for me, razor-thin. In the end, I have to give the edge to Murphy due to being about a year younger, and due to his incredible development throughout college. Murphy is a fantastic talent with otherworldly bending abilities for his weight of 270 pounds. He’s so flexible, in fact, that his teammates at Clemson have given him the nickname “Spider-Man.” That tells you about all you need to know.
If the football gods built a defensive end in some sort of heavenly laboratory, he would look like Myles Murphy. Murphy is built like a perfect prototype of an edge prospect at 6’5 and about 270 pounds, and he has the power to go with it. Scouts have been extremely impressed with Murphy’s people-moving ability, and the way he blends it with his not-quite-elite-but-still-great speed is something to behold. The production has come relatively easy for Murphy throughout his college career, but he’s poised for a true breakout year anchoring the Tigers’ defense in 2022.
If Murphy can start applying his technical prowess with more consistency, he could become a force of nature for Clemson and get himself a very high draft pick come April 2023. I wish Murphy were more consistent in general, as I’ve found that he can take plays off at times when it comes to being as polished as I know he can be. I want to see more flexibility, both in the purely physical sense, and in the amount of pass rush moves he employs. Do something more than bull-rush! His bull-rush is very impressive, but I have to say, it’s far less entertaining on tape (and far less effective) than switching it up every so often.