2023 NFL Draft
Steelers Draft Profile: Drew Sanders Brings Edge, High Upside to Inside Linebacker
INDIANAPOLIS — When Drew Sanders transferred to Arkansas from Alabama, he was a highly sought-after edge rusher with a five-star pedigree to go along with it. Hailing from Denton, Texas, he found his new home in Arkansas, but he would not long be an edge rusher. Instead, Sanders folded himself into a hybrid, playing most off-ball linebacker this past season while with the Razorbacks. But don’t take it from anyone but Sanders that he is still learning about the process.
“Listen, I’m still raw at both inside and outside linebacker,” Sanders said. “But you know, this is part of what makes this game fun. I am looking forward to learning more wherever I play and I think I can make a big leap the more I learn in this game.”
Sanders’ favorite player? None other than Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt. That tracks for Sanders, who was a prolific quarterback, running back, and wide receiver before finding his home at linebacker. Watt was a standout tight end before finding his home as a pass rusher. But Sanders craves the game just as much as Watt does, and that could be to his benefit as teams look into his background.
“I tried to match his style in his rushes,” Sanders said. “We are similar with our builds. I just love how he prepares for the game. That’s a guy I look up to as a player.”
And on his first night in Indianapolis, Sanders got to meet the face of the Steelers franchise. No, not Watt, but head coach Mike Tomlin. Sanders admitted how intimidating it is to be in front of someone like Tomlin. However, he let himself do the talking. Having gone around the country with multiple stops on his journey, both schools and positionally, Sanders’ stock has a rocket ship attached to its back. Now, his coverage ability is something that pops.
“I’ve always considered my athleticism to be one of my biggest strengths,” Sanders said. “This year, I think I showed that I could cover at a pretty high level. It’s not always easy switching positions, but I think going from where I was to where I am now has helped me grow.”
So, Sanders is now here as a fringe first-round pick. Can he handle the sauce of the NFL lights at inside linebacker? Teams, including Pittsburgh, view Sanders as only an off-ball linebacker and he is running the train for that full steam ahead.
“I’m an inside linebacker,” Sanders said. “Teams think I am, too. Whatever I can do to learn more there, I am ready to embrace.”
TALE OF THE TAPE
Listed at Arkansas: 6-foot-5, 233 pounds
DREW SANDERS SCOUTING REPORT
Sanders is a fascinating player that might not be everyone’s flavor. He stated that he is raw, and it shows up on film. Yet, his film showcases a vibrant flavor that intrigues the viewer. First off, his athleticism, expertise on the field, and physical traits give him an incredibly high ceiling. If there is someone from this inside linebacker class that has star potential, Sanders could be that guy. He can cover with some of the best of them in this class, too. Sanders is a bit inexperienced in this department, but his improvement over the season was something to watch. I expect Sanders to improve in that area.
However, he is a raw player who might have trouble adding much in the off-ball linebacker spot from day one. I think he could be a great blitzer right away and give teams production in blitz packages. However, he struggles to understand run fits in the box and can have trouble avoiding the trash. Is it a problem shedding blocks? I tend to think no since he has the length to really make a dent there. In addition, he is just very slight. Sanders has to get into a legitimate weight training program and bulk up.
HOW DOES HE FIT?
Sanders could be an intriguing fit in Pittsburgh. He has some high-upside traits they like, especially in the length department. However, I do think they need immediate contributors. Perhaps Sanders could come in and be the team’s dime linebacker and work his way up from there. That would not be all too surprising. However, do not expect them to trust him in a three-down role just yet if they acquire his services given his rawness in the box against the run.
WHERE WILL HE BE DRAFTED?
Steadily, Sanders has risen his stock to right around the 32nd pick. It is a bad inside linebacker class so that could push him up more, or this could be perfect. However, I would expect Sanders to be a legitimate candidate for the Steelers with their first second-round selection acquired in the Chase Claypool trade.