Drew Sanders 2023 NFL Draft profile: Scout report for the Arkansas LB
If he was labeled as an actual linebacker (instead of athlete) in the 2020 recruiting class, Arkansas' Drew Sanders would have been behind only those two Oregon guys in Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe – and he was the top overall recruit in the state of Texas.
As a freshman at Alabama, he was a core special teamer and worked his way onto the field defensively in Year Two, taking over for the injured Christopher Allen at SAM, before suffering an injury that limited his time over the second half of the season, ultimately starting three of 12 games played and recording 24 tackles and two PBUs.
He decided to transfer in-conference ahead of 2022 and became a star on Arkansas’ defense off the ball as their MIKE, as he racked up 103 total tackles, 13.5 of those for loss, 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, one interception and five PBUs, making him a first-team All-Southeastern Conference and All-American selection.
Drew Sanders, Arkansas
6-foot-4, 235 pounds; junior
- + Has enough force in his hands to set a physical edge in the run game when lined up there, while being reliable with holding his contain responsibilities. And that ability to lock out also shows up when he has to keep blockers at bay who work straight up to him
- Approaches the line of scrimmage with urgency and does not hesitate to bang into bigger bodies, to squeeze down lanes
- + There are some snaps on tape, where he meets wrap-around pullers in the hole and controls them with full extension
- Very slippery with slicing through a gap before linemen can combo off to him, in order to flash in the backfield and force cutbacks
- Possesses plus contact balance to stay on his feet and at times wrap up the ball-carrier, while blockers are engaged with him
- + Displays good patience on the backside of zone runs, to shuffle along for a potential cutback, and then has enough speed to flatten and knock guys out of bounds for four-/five-yards gains as the ball-carrier decides to bounce
- Overall, Sanders is very active with his hands to fight off blocks and get contact on the guy with the ball. And when needed, he can scrape over guys trying to pin him away from the action
- Displays good awareness as a zone dropper, for targets curling up behind him and to pick up guys trying to work underneath him
- When he drives down on stuff in front of him, he explodes out of his stance and will get there in a hurry
- Light on his feet and reads the hip of scrambling quarterbacks well to limit their yardage as a spy or just hook dropper
- In general, his chase speed out to the perimeter is a major plus
- His length is not only an asset when battling with blockers, but also increasing his range in coverage and to slow down ball-carriers trying to run away from him
- Packs some pretty effective hand-swipes and can link those better with his hips than most off-ball backers, especially slapping the hands away and sliding inside of tackles can create issues for those guys
- Can physically overwhelm running backs tasked with picking him up as a blitzer, and if he learns how to utilize his suddenness, he will become even more dangerous, as he can side-step guys to greater effect
- Times up the snap exceptionally well and crashes through one half of guards at full force
- Racked up an insane 39 pressures and basically double-digit sacks on just 147 pass-rush snaps (according to PFF) last year
- Needs to get stronger and more comfortable with stacking and shedding blockers technically correct with consistency, if teams want him to be a true MIKE at the next level
- At times is too hell-bent on beating blockers to the spot on the front side and enables backs to cut up runs inside of him
- And way too often he’s racing down on quarterbacks off bootlegs or scrambling and badly overshoots the target, as that guy stops to just slip inside of him
- Not a super forceful tackler, as ball-carriers gain a couple of extra yards as he hits them from the side quite regularly – missed an alarming 19.6% of his tackling attempts this past season (22 of 125)
- Still learning the intricacies of the position in coverage as well, where he’s caught “covering grass” on too many occasions
Unlike a few other prospects where I’d say it’s unjustified they get labeled that way, Sanders truly is a diverse play-maker. He has the size, length, flexibility and powerful hands to potentially play outside linebacker in odd or even fronts, as well as either stand-up spot between the tackles.
The question is how you ultimately deploy him and if he’s better suited being more locked into one spot early on, before you really tap into that versatility once he’s acclimated to the NFL.
Breaking down and running his feet through tackles will be a major area of improvement for him, but what he can provide as a pressure player from different angles and alignments, combined with the tough and aggressive mindset to attack against the run, give him the potential to be the most impactful linebacker of this class.
Grade: Late first/early second round
You might like other 2023 NFL Draft Scouting Reports: Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon, Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State, Henry To'o To'o, LB, Alabama, DeMarvion Overshown, LB, Texas, Ivan Pace Jr., LB, Cincinnati, Dorian Williams, LB, Tulane, Jeremy Banks, LB, Tennessee.
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