Return of the Kings
In the first preseason game for the Rams in 2016, a huge throng of football fans packed themselves into the LA Coliseum to witness the return of Rams football to southern California (or for the Dallas Cowboys fans in attendance, to cheer for the visiting team.) Rookie first overall pick, Jared Goff entered the game and in the middle of the 2nd quarter faced a 3rd&9. Dallas sent a layered blitz, Goff held the ball too long in the pocket and got hit as he released the pass. The ball fluttered in the air like a wounded duck and fell to the middle linebacker for an easy INT. It was a "welcome to the NFL" moment for Goff. Do you know the name of the LB who got that interception?
I had a hard time coming up with a good NFL comp for Montana State linebacker, Troy Andersen. He starred both on offense (primarily as a running QB) and on defense (at LB) in college. He's a fast, but extremely raw LB.
Lance Zierlein must have had a hard time coming up with a comp too, because he chose Mark Nzeocha. My reaction (and I assume yours as well) was "Who in the world is Mark Nzeocha?" His preseason INT off of Goff likely is one of the highlights of his otherwise unremarkable NFL career. Nzeocha played for Wyoming, then was a 7th round pick by Dallas in 2015. Seldom used by the Cowboys, he was a special teams player for a few seasons with the Niners. As best I can tell, he's still nibbling around on the fringe of the roster for the Niners.
Will Troy Andersen have better success than Nzeocha in making a name for himself in the NFL? Andersen is full of surprising and interesting contrasts. An aggressive and physical player on the field, you might assume that he was a stereotypical football jock, perhaps a former bully in middle school who had trouble passing Algebra. That's not at all his personality. He was an outstanding student at Montana State, graduating with a 3.91 GPA in agricultural business, with various academic awards. He has a humble, grounded, reserved and almost understated personality. For a player who was a 1st team All American and the FCS defensive POY, he doesn't have an oversized ego.
The contrasts extend onto the football field. Andersen has 4.4 speed and a 36'' vertical jump, so you might think he's a phenomenal athlete. Andersen's game tape reveals a more complicated puzzle. He has issues moving in space, due to limitations with his balance and change of direction. This is a key reason I have doubts about his NFL ceiling. Draft boards all seem to like Andersen, projecting him to be a middle round pick. I think they are all too high on him. Maybe he'll be better than Mark Nzeocha, but the way some people have been hyping Andersen in this draft, you'd think he's going to be the next Brian Urlacher. I don't see that happening.
Is Andersen a prospect the Rams should steer clear of with their 3rd round pick or is he a future NFL star just barely scratching the surface of his potential?
From a small town in Montana with a population less than 4,000. Family has a cattle ranch. Sprinter in track in HS (100 and 200 meters), basketball, QB and S in football, state champ and star athlete in each sport. Valedictorian of HS.
6'3 1/2'' tall, 243 pounds, 32 1/8'' arms, 9 1/4'' hands, 77 5/8'' wingspan. Was listed by school at 6'4'' and 235 pounds. There are very minor discrepancies between Senior Bowl and Combine measurements.
4.42 sec (40 time), 36'' vert jump, 10'8'' broad. Did not participate in other drills.
Initially majored in mechanical engineering, but switched to ag business. Even when starring at QB in college, reportedly his true desire was to be playing LB. Finalist for Campbell Trophy (the Academic Heisman)
Played RB and LB as freshman. Switching to QB as sophomore in 2018, he passed for 92 yards per game (55% completions) and ran for 109 yards per game, nearly 7 yards per attempt. In 13 games he had 1,412 rushing yards, the 3rd most in school history and his 21 rushing TDs broke the school record for rushing TDs in a season. He had 211 rushing yards in one game. Had a wrist injury in 2018 playing at QB.
Team captain in 2019 and 2020. Playing at outside LB and FB in 2019, he had 54 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks, an INT and 5 PBU in 10 games. Late in the 2019, playing on offense, he injured his knee. Initially, the team told him he didn't need to have surgery, but about 3 months later he was still experiencing discomfort and specialists recommended surgery. There were a variety of delays, so he didn't have surgery until May of 2020. He redshirted in 2020 and would not have physically been able to play and it didn't matter anyway as the team didn't play any games that year.
Was moved from OLB to ILB in 2021, but not full time in the box. He essentially used in 2 different spots. Sometimes he was a stacked MLB, but other plays he was a hang defender out in the slot area where he could patrol and defend against screen passes and wide running plays.
In 2021 (15 games) had 147 tackles (83 solo), 14 TFLs, 2 sacks, FR, 2 INT, 7 PBU. Named FCS Defensive POY and 1st team All American.
ESPN 82nd overall prospect (3rd round)
Drafttek 90th overall, 7th ranked ILB (3rd)
Tony Pauline 133rd overall (4th red)
Ian Cummings 109th overall (late 3rd to 4th)
Oliver Hodgkinson 129th overall (4th)
Shane Hallam 88th overall (3rd)
Brian Bosarge 123rd overall (4th)
These boards have him as a consensus 3rd to 4th round pick and if they are right the Rams likely would have to take him at the end of the 3rd round, because he could be gone by the time the Rams have their next pick.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Lance Zierlein says he is a high motor, all gas and no brakes player. Wrap up tackler, can be used on offense, core special teams player. Lacks instincts and experience, indecisive and unsure of assignments, inconsistent with his run fits, takes false steps, juked in man coverage, struggles to squeeze quickly from zone coverage.
I don't have any quibbles with LZ's take, it is consistent with how I'd describe Andersen.
Knee injury from 2019 will need to pass medical evaluation.
Solid arm length. Fast and disruptive. Reads bubble screen developing, agility to run around the blocker, then trips up the WR, showing both football IQ and athleticism.
Aggressive, effective length, good hand usage, able to defeat blocks.
Deliver some heavy tackles. See ball, go get ball mentality.
Technique needs substantial work. Body positioning and footwork is poor. Plays way too tall. On a run play where the RB is running straight towards him up the middle, the LB is standing nearly straight up and down like a post. You cannot play LB in the NFL like that.
When scraping laterally down the LOS, he turns and opens up his shoulders early for no reason, instead of remaining more square to the LOS.
Built more like a QB or a TE, not ideal build for a LB. Legs appear to be long in relation to torso, higher center of gravity, narrow and linear build.
Herky jerkey body movements trying to mirror even a subtle hesitation move by the RB. Offense shows potential screen pass to L, QB pump fakes to the R, then tucks ball and runs up the middle. LB has to change directions 3 times in quick succession on this play to react to each fake and his arms and legs are all out of whack, uncoordinated. He ultimately makes a tackle on the play, but it reveals a vulnerability in his athletic profile.
Everyone focuses on the Combine drills that produce testing scores, but the on field portion of the Combine is also important. Watch the drill where the LB pops up and the coach points in different directions, forcing the LB to shuffle back and forth and pedal backwards. If you watch all of the "top ILB" prospects in this class do that specific drill, I'd argue that Troy Andersen was the worst of all of those players changing directions. That's fine if we're only talking about Andersen as a late round prospect, but if we're talking 3rd round, I have serious reservations about drafting a LB who struggles to change directions. What does a LB do over and over in an actual football game? He's required to do more than just run forward in a line as fast as he can. I don't care what his 40 time is if he's "slow" moving laterally.
Pedal is stiff and clunky. Length of steps in pedal inconsistent and not correct. Sloppy transitions changing directions. Not aware or agile when bailing into zone coverage after mugging OL.
Gets blocked too easily as blitzer. Doesn't have plan of attack when attacking blockers at the LOS.
I'll highlight two plays that happened on back to back snaps to sum up why I don't have a high grade on Andersen. The first play was a play action pass. The TE runs up the seam, then breaks towards the middle of the field. When Andersen reads that it is a pass, he fails to gain sufficient depth in zone coverage. His pedal is too stiff, preventing him from moving backwards far enough. He compounds the problem by showing poor instincts for where to move, he steps in the wrong direction trying to squeeze the route to the outside and all it does is open up the middle for an easy completion to the TE.
On the very next play, the opponent calls a wide zone run. The backside G climbs towards Andersen at the 2nd level. Andersen overruns his run fit, then as the G closes in, Andersen is so tentative that he literally steps backwards. The G makes a lousy block (it is an FCS player, after all), but it is still effective to cause the LB to spin 360 degrees and be knocked out of his gap. The RB cuts through Andersen's assigned gap and runs for over 10 yards.
Bottom line is there are substantial holes on Andersen's game defending both the pass and the run. The developmental curve is steep if he's ever going to become a starting level LB in the NFL. Yes, he has explosive speed, some size and he's very intelligent with great football character. He's a very likeable person, but in general I really don't like "project players" in the draft, at least not in the early rounds. If you miss on such a boom or bust prospect, you could be drafting just a special teams player in the 3rd round, which is a bad draft outcome.
I don't agree with the draft boards that have him as a 3rd to 4th round pick. In my view, Troy Andersen is a late round prospect. He potentially could be an outstanding special teams player in the NFL. If a team tried him at FB, maybe he could even become one of the best fullbacks in the league. Perhaps he could be given a shot at TE. Or just have a package of plays for him near the GL or on short yardage run situations and let him run with the ball like a RB. There's a chance for Andersen to make a roster and possibly contribute in a variety of ways, but I'm not optimistic about his odds of developing into a good starting linebacker in the NFL.