Analyzing The Crimson Tide’s Edge Rushers
Pass rushing from the outside linebacker position hasn't been a great strength of the Alabama Crimson Tide during Nick Saban's tenure. Only two players have recorded double-digit sacks off the edge: Wallace Gilberry in 2007 and Tim Williams in 2015 (Williams had 9.5 that year, so technically less than 10.)
Coming into the 2020 season, the edge rusher position was a massive question mark for Alabama. Christopher Allen and Ben Davis were the only outside linebackers with sacks in 2019 and they combined for just 1.5 sacks. Alabama brought in three 5-star edge rushers to address the growing need. Before the first quarter ended in the season opener in Missouri, the Alabama fanbase knew it had a star in Will Anderson.
Anderson and Allen combined for 13 sacks in 2020 and are primed to quite possibly double that number in 2021. They won't be alone in the upcoming campaign. The Crimson Tide sports ridiculous depth at all levels of its defense this season, and the edge rushers are no different.
Let's take an in-depth look at the Alabama Crimson Tide edge rushers who will make a difference this season.
Where do we start with the guy they call "The Terminator?" He led the SEC in quarterback pressures, racked up seven sacks, good for second on the team and third in the SEC while his 11 tackles for loss were good for second in the SEC. And that's just what we can quantify in a stat sheet. How Will Anderson didn't win SEC Freshman of the Year is still a mystery.
Anderson does it all though. His first step at the snap is one of the fastest in the country. He possesses a near-perfect balance of speed, explosiveness and strength. He has a healthy repertoire of pass-rushing moves and is hyper-aware of the quarterback's presence in the backfield giving him that split second he needs to use the correct move to get past the unfortunate soul attempting to block him.
He's electric, and few offensive tackles can hope to stop him. He's just as lethal in the running game as he is in the passing game.
His explosiveness allows defensive coordinator Pete Golding and head coach Nick Saban to be creative in run fits and assignments. Pair that with the talent of this Alabama defense and the Crimson Tide have a distinct advantage over most of the country.
Anderson carries the uncanny ability to disrupt plays in a way that may not impact his stat sheet, but absolutely impact the momentum and outcome of a football game. The aforementioned performance against the Missouri Tigers saw him blow up option play after option play, causing fumbles and creating opportunities for his teammates.
There's no denying that Anderson benefits from the talent around him, preventing teams from dialing in on him. Transitioning from a stellar freshman season, he'll have to find the little nuances that can elevate a player of his caliber. While those may sound like concerns, it's really just a way of saying he's only going to get better, and that should terrify not only the SEC but any program willing to take on the Crimson Tide on a national stage.
Christopher Allen may not have started his career as Anderson did, but he's found a groove that complements his counterpart wonderfully. Ask anyone who's analyzed this defense closely who the most improved player was from 2019 to 2020, the answer is a deadlock between off-ball linebacker Christian Harris and Chris Allen.
Early in the season I enjoyed Allen's work in the passing game but was hesitant on some run fit discipline. As the season wore on, though, Allen grew stronger and stronger in his responsibilities in sealing the edge against outside run attempts, crashing all action to his area inside.
Allen's greatest strength is his pursuit. Once he sees his path to the ball he's a shark in the water, closing to his target and arriving with intentions of separating the ball from the fellow in the opposing jersey. His relentlessness paved a path to six sacks and an SEC-leading 13 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
Entering his redshirt senior season, Allen is only matched in experience by defensive lineman LaBryan Ray meaning his duties stretch beyond his play on the field. With the depth behind him, Allen will play a pivotal role in making sure players around him benefit from his presence.
As of right now, junior King Mwikuta is in the transfer portal. As the season nears without an announcement of where he may be headed, the odds of his return increase. Whatever Mwikuta's reasons are for entering the portal, it's likely that his playing time in the rotation is high on the list. That had a lot to do with injuries and with other names starting to push for playing time, it's just an unfortunate situation for the former 4-star from Georgia.
Still, Mwikuta is a disciplined player with great size standing 6'5"-238lbs, making him the second-biggest backer on the roster. He knows how to use his size, crashing opposing tackles with a powerful one-armed bull rush which he can use to set up a second move.
In the A Day Spring game, Mwikuta displayed an excellent get-off and took advantage of the inexperience on the Crimson Team's offensive line. He utilized effect spin moves, swats, swims and bullrushes to create pressure on quarterback Paul Tyson.
Should Mwikuta return, his size and skill should allow him to be a role player within a rotation. He'll be a valuable body on special teams and wreak havoc in mop-up duty. Make no mistake, he's an asset to this defense that would be missed if he does transfer.
Chris Braswell was the highest-rated edge linebacker recruit among the three that joined the Tide in 2020. However, Braswell didn't see the field at all last season.
That won't be the case in 2021. If A Day showed us anything, it's that Chris Braswell is going to be a problem. Sure, early in the season offensive tackles might be happy to see numbers 31 and 4 leave the field for a breather, but they'll soon realize that they won't be getting a break of their own.
Braswell is still a bit raw, this much is true. Odds are, he won't be a game-breaker when he gets on the field, but he will get better throughout the season with more in-game experience. A Day was proof enough.
Early in the game, Braswell struggled with Evan Neal (who wouldn't?) but found a weakness in Kendall Randolph and strip-sacked Bryce Young resulting in a defensive touchdown.
Braswell does have to find consistency in using his hands, setting up rush moves and transitioning to his next move if the tackle reads him. His explosive first step will do him favors, but without technique, it could put him out of position at the most inopportune times. Again, he showed he can put it all together within the A Day game.
Braswell's got the goods and the best coaching staff on the planet. It's only a matter of time before we are talking about Braswell like we do with Allen and Anderson now.
All's quiet on the Drew Sanders front since he gave up that wheel route touchdown in the Missouri game. It's unfortunate, but that wasn't a great first impression. For fans that wonder why Saban coaches so hard with massive leads late in the fourth quarter, that play was a prime example.
It's doubly unfortunate Sanders didn't play in the A Day game. We haven't gotten a real opportunity to see what's next for him.
It's not all negative though. Sanders is the third 5-star alongside Anderson and Braswell, though he came out of Texas as an athlete prospect. Still, at 6'5"-230lbs, Sanders has a lot going for him when he gets on the field this fall.
If Mwikuta stays, Sanders will likely be a special teamer for most of the season, seeing mop-up duty at his primary position throughout the season. That still holds tremendous value to reverse some of the negative energy around him. One big play on a kickoff or punt can get the fanbase excited to see him on defense.
Quandarrius Robinson is a dark horse at the edge linebacker position. He was able to take on some playing time for A Day in Sanders's absence. That said, Robinson didn't do anything awe-inspiring as Braswell did, but experience and comfort go a long way.
I'd like to see more aggressiveness from Robinson in his reps this fall should he get some deep in a blowout game. He's got a long, speedy frame at 6'5"-220lbs. He can rely on his raw athleticism for now, but as he learns to utilize his length and formulates a move set, he can be dangerous for future Tide defenses.
Keep an eye on No. 34 if the Birmingham native sees the field this season.
Alabama has six edge rushers who have the potential to carry a real role on the team, but the fun doesn't stop there for fans of this team's sack artists. Freshman Keanu Koht is about 10-15lbs from becoming one of the SEC's fiercest pass rushers. Meanwhile fellow freshman Dallas Turner is a 5-star we've yet to see in action. He may be a tad limited as a late enrollee, but if Malachi Moore taught us anything, offseason obstacles can be overcome with talent and hard work.
At the end of the day, the Crimson Tide's pass rush is one the national scene will respect very much once it takes the field against the Miami Hurricanes Sept. 4 in Atlanta to make quarterback D'Eriq King's night a living hell.