Schematically, he was probably a better fit with the 3-4 front the Cards had used in recent seasons. But you don't say no when you get the chance to take someone with Anderson's characteristics given his size (6-4, 243 pounds), burst and power. And given the success new head coach Jonathan Gannon had deploying LB Haason Reddick, who's smaller than Anderson, on the edge in Philadelphia, there should be no issues here. The two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year was truly spectacular in 2021, when he led the country with 17½ sacks and 31 tackles for loss.
The Cardinals just hired Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. Gannon is coming from an organization that placed importance on the trenches and in particular the interior defensive line. I think Gannon goes with what he is familiar with and decides to draft a player who some believe to be the best defensive prospect in this year's draft: Georgia IDL Jalen Carter. Carter will bring a physical presence to a defensive unit that has been mediocre for years.
Anderson checks all the boxes with elite production, physical traits and intangibles. He's an all-around defender with outstanding power, burst and length, and plays with a relentless motor. The Alabama junior finished his collegiate career with 34.5 sacks and 62 tackles for loss over 41 games. PFF credits Anderson with 65 pressures (tied for fifth among all FBS defenders) in 2022 after leading FBS defenders in both '20 (60) and '21 (82).
The Cardinals ranked in the bottom 10 in sacks last season (36), and the two players who accounted for half of their sacks have either retired (J.J. Watt, 12.5) or will be a free agent (Zach Allen, 5.5). In this mock, new general manager Monti Ossenfort begins his Cardinals' tenure with my top-ranked player falling to him at No. 3.
Anderson was the best defensive player in college football for each of the last two years and would've been drafted in this same spot a year ago if he were eligible. He racked up 58.5 tackles for loss and 34.5 sacks over three seasons with the Crimson Tide. With J.J. Watt off into retirement, Anderson could slide in perfectly as a top-level pass rusher.
Yet another team that will have a new coach in 2023 after hiring Jonathan Gannon, Arizona has to beef up the pass rush. Enter Anderson, who racked up 27.5 sacks, 130 pressures and 54 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. He overpowers blockers with lower-body strength and an explosive first step, and he'd immediately improve the Cardinals' ability to get after the QB. Their 36 sacks tied for 23rd last year, and they could lose Zach Allen (free agency) in addition to J.J. Watt (retirement). This one just makes a ton of sense and will be a popular mock draft fit over the next two months.
The offensive and defensive lines are both very problematic, but with JJ Watt retiring and Zach Allen facing free agency, new GM Monti Ossenfort (former Titans director of player personnel) will need to replenish the pass rush immediately. Anderson would be a no-brainer here. Some scouts will say he's a bit undersized for an NFL edge rusher, but there are shades of Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas and future Hall of Famer Von Miller in his pass-rush approach — 34.5 sacks in three seasons with the Crimson Tide. Plus, he is equally adept at defending the run. I'd have no qualms with him going first overall.
I believe Carter is the top defensive prospect in the 2023 draft because he can overwhelm linemen with his strength but also has plus agility for a 300-pounder. The Cardinals line him up in the spot left vacant by the retired J.J. Watt.