Why the Slide?: Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas

Our “Why the Slide” series parallels and grew out our “Why Undrafted” series. The latter was created a number of years ago in response to your questions about why certain well-known prospects went unselected in NFL drafts. For both series, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. The positive response to “Why Undrafted” and questions from readers about why prospects were drafted lower than the media expectations led us to create the parallel series “Why the Slide?”

Both series are back this year. Feel free to email me requests for Why the Slide? and Why Undrafted? at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely will respond to the email.

Ignoring Sanders when watching Arkansas last year. The Alabama transfer was a playmaking force for the Razorbacks and broke out with 9.5 sacks, 103 tackles, three forced fumbles, and five passes broken up. The 6-foot-5, 232-pounder was one of the top defenders in the SEC, and after the season, he decided to enter the draft. There were some projections in the early going of 2023 that had Sanders in the first round, but by the time of the draft, he was a consensus second-day projection. Still, it was somewhat surprising when he did not go in the second round and slipped to Round 3.

In speaking to team sources, Sanders slid for a few reasons. Teams noted that Sanders was a good pursuit run defender but had issues defending downhill runs coming straight at him. They felt that Sanders is not physical and slides into a lot of his run tackles downfield. They wanted to see him be more physical and make more of his run tackles playing downhill. The 6-foot-5, 232-pound Sanders does not have the size to be a defensive end as a pro and needs more development to be a traditional linebacker.

The Denver Broncos ended Sanders’ fall in the third round, and that was a quality landing spot him. With Von Miller and Bradley Chubb traded away over the past two years, the Broncos have gone about restocking their edge-rush talent. After signing Randy Gregory and drafting Nik Bonitto last year, Denver started the process, but the roster still could use more talent. Gregory can line up with his hand in the ground, and Bonitto can move around the defensive front. Sanders is similar in that he can rush off the edge or play some traditional off-the-ball linebacker, so Denver can find a way to get the trio on the field together at the same time. The Broncos need some pass-rushing cornerstones to emerge, and Sanders will have every opportunity to carve out a NFL career in Denver.

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