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Checking in on Texans edge rusher Will Anderson, Jr.

How has the rookie defender fared so far in 2023?

New Orleans Saints v Houston Texans Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Out of all of predictions made of the 2023 Houston Texans, very, very few came true. I think it’s safe to say nearly everyone on the planet has been surprised by quarterback C.J. Stroud’s spectacular start to his rookie season. He’s been franchise-altering good, fellow rookie wide receiver Tank Dell has similarly shocked the masses by becoming an overnight sensation in the Stroud-led offense, and they’re joined by wide receiver Nico Collins who is now fully realizing WR1 expectations. These three players have become must-see television, and have rightfully earned the high praise and attention they are receiving.

But, what about this defense? More particularly, what about rookie defensive end Will Anderson Jr.? Anderson has been nothing short of fantastic for the Houston defensive line, pairing up with defensive end Jonathan Greenard and defensive tackle Maliek Collins to make one of the deadliest pass-rushes in the league.

Through the first six games of the season, Will Anderson has tallied 20 tackles, 16 hurries, seven QB hits, and one sack. Just a single sack doesn’t seem impressive, but turn on the tape and you’ll quickly see why Anderson is on the short list from Defensive Player of the Year:

In this play, you can see Will Anderson scream through Saints right guard Cesar Ruiz (#51), pressuring Derek Carr and forcing him up into a Maliek Collins sack.

His speed and strength just jump off the screen. Even when not having a direct impact on the play, Will Anderson has shown a habit for flustering offensive linemen and getting into the backfield. His comical stats at Alabama just seemed too good to be true for me at first, but they are now clearly not a fluke as his collegiate production is revealing itself week after week. He’s not even playing full games, he’s splitting snaps with Jerry Hughes! He’s not even on the field for a significant part of the game, and he’s still been a productive rookie.

Still, on many of his highlight plays, Anderson is just a hair late to the passer. Maybe it’s him adjusting to the speed of the NFL, or maybe it’s the change from linebacker to defensive end, but Anderson is playing exactly how he did at Alabama, just with his hand on the ground more often and less sacks. Fortunately for him, however, Anderson has several other teammates along the defensive line that have a history of generating sacks in the NFL, so doing it all isn’t a requirement at this point in his career.

You don’t have to take it from me, either. In his first six weeks in the NFL, PFF currently has Will Anderson as the #22 best defensive end in the NFL, just above Jets end Bryce Huff and Saints end Cameron Jordan, and just below the Eagles’ Josh Sweat and Bills’ Greg Rousseau. Anderson currently has a PFF grade of 80.3, best among all defensive ends in Houston and third best on the entire defense, behind only Tavierre Thomas (87.5) and Blake Cashman (90.3). Many touted Anderson as the best player in the 2023 NFL Draft, and a sure fire great selection by any team interested. They were right, very right, and even though C.J. Stroud has become the talk of the town, Will Anderson has proven to be a home-run selection already.

The next few months of the season will be particularly intriguing as they relate to Anderson, as he’ll try to close the gap between him and the passer just a hair faster. Some of his next opponents include the Carolina Panthers, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Arizona Cardinals, and the Denver Broncos. None of these teams are very great at pass-blocking, and some are even worse at run-blocking, giving Anderson a chance to really blow up his stat sheet even more so. If he’s able to successfully speed up his launch and utilize his hands a little more, he could be on the way to becoming of the AFC’s great bearers of carnage. One thing is for certain, and that is he’s going to be productive either way.

What do you think of Will Anderson, Jr. so far this season? Has he met your high hopes, or is he more a product of a great surrounding cast? Let us know in the comments below!