Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
Sanders grew into an NFL player in Arkansas
Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders tackles Alabama quarterback Bryce Young during a game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Fayetteville.
As the NFL Draft played out, there were surprises, disappointments and excitement.
It wasn’t a surprise Alabama quarterback Bryce Young was the first player taken, and it was a little surprising Kentucky’s quarterback Will Levis didn’t go until the second round and that Arkansas Razorback linebacker Drew Sanders lasted until the third round.
From middle of the second round until Sanders was taken by the Denver Bronco’s with the 67th overall selection, fourth in the third round, CBSsports.com was putting him on top as the next player to go.
His size, speed and nose for the ball could make him the steal of the 2023 draft, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he contributes as a rookie.
Sanders was a 5-star signee by Alabama after he decommitted to Oklahoma. The Denton, Texas, native played for the Crimson Tide and was being counted on for the future when he announced he was entering the transfer portal.
To date, he’s probably Sam Pittman’s biggest get out of the portal.
Nick Saban played him as a down-linebacker, putting his fingers on the ground before the snap. Saban even snarkily said after the transfer, Sanders didn’t like having his hand in the dirt.
Sanders became a starter for the Tide his sophomore season and playing with his hand in the dirt had 24 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 2 passes defended.
As a full-time starter for the Razorbacks and not playing in the dirt, Sanders had a team high 103 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.
Would he have gone higher in the draft if he had stayed at Alabama, who had two of the top three picks and eight through the first three rounds?
Maybe, but he was obviously playing where Saban wanted him and apparently was not at his best position.
Saban, of course, was interviewed before the draft started and he made it a sales pitch for playing at Alabama, which any coach in his right mind would have done.
Through the critical first three rounds, the SEC had 63 players drafted. Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Florida had more than any other conference, but the SEC promotes football year round.
It is the sport of choice in the South and more money is spent on football at those four schools than one could imagine. Georgia spent almost $5 million on just recruiting last season.
Arkansas center Ricky Stromberg, a four-year starter who like Sanders had another year of eligibility, was drafted by the Washington Commanders with the 97th pick.
It would not be surprising if Stromberg became a starter but then nothing is surprising about that franchise that has been in turmoil for more than a year.
There were several first-round picks who were not in Kansas City, which appeared to be one huge NFL hearty party that started Thursday.
A couple players who weren’t taken until Friday’s second round pick were at the draft.
What was a bit of a surprise was that Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson was taken with the No. 4 pick overall after a 6-7 season with the Gators in which he threw just 17 touchdown passes and had nine interceptions.
He did run for 12 touchdowns, and the so-called experts are comparing him to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Richardson wowed the scouts at the NFL Combine with a 4.43-second 40-yard dash, a vertical jump of more than 40 inches and broad jump of almost 11 feet. That screams athlete.
By now the 2023 NFL Draft is in the books and Young will sign a contract worth more than $40 million and Sanders for a little more than $5 million, but his second contract could be exceptional.
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