Nick Anderson talks draft process, Pro Day

Mark Keplinger, Sports Editor

Nick Anderson did not spend a lot of time celebrating Tulane football’s historic Cotton Bowl victory before he was back in the gym. “I may have celebrated that night. And then, me and [former Tulane safety] Larry Brooks were back working out two days later. And then I came back and started training with Coach [Kurt] Hester around like January 6, and I’ve been training for [Tulane’s] Pro Day ever since,” the former Tulane linebacker and captain said.

Incidentally, Jan. 6 was the same day Anderson announced on his social media that he was entering his name in the 2023 NFL Draft. He joined 10 other Tulanians who hope to get drafted. Despite a great season, Anderson did not get the same recognition or exposure as other players — mainly due to his smaller size and the lower profile of Tulane football and the American Athletic Conference.

Consequently, Anderson was not invited to the Senior Bowl or the NFL Combine. Tulane’s Pro Day became the only major opportunity for Anderson to impress NFL scouts. “I just knew that my Combine, my Senior Bowl would be my Pro Day. And so I just put all my eggs in that basket,” Anderson said.  While disappointed that he only had his Pro Day, the linebacker decided to look at the blessings he did have rather than the opportunities that could have been.

“You can only control the things you can control. I wasn’t given that opportunity, but I was given the opportunity to go out [for the Pro Day]. I’m performing in front of all 32 teams and not everybody gets that opportunity. There’s some schools that would be lucky to have scouts come to their Pro Days [and] some schools that may have scouts there but don’t have any position coaches there … I’m just happy for the experience. And even though I didn’t get the combine, get the Senior Bowl, God gave me exactly what I needed.”

Anderson worked with Tulane football’s strength coach Kurt Hester to prepare him for the draft process, citing Hester’s familiarity with Anderson’s body as a major reason why. In the roughly two-and-a-half months from the end of the season to the Pro Day, Hester worked to improve Anderson’s quickness, change of direction, explosiveness and agility.

Anderson’s biggest concern is his physical stature, specifically his height. The Vicksburg, Mississippi native is 5’10,” 225 pounds with a muscular build. However, the prototypical NFL linebacker is typically around 6’2” or 6’3” and around 235 pounds. Even Anderson’s teammate Dorian Williams, who NFL scouts thus far believe is the better middle linebacker prospect, is slightly undersized at 6’1”, 228 pounds.

Anderson is not deterred by these norms and looks at players like the late Sam Mills for inspiration. Mills stood at just 5’9” but he played 12 seasons in a Hall of Fame career. 

If there is one position where the prototypical size is no longer as important, it is linebacker. With the NFL becoming a more passing league, linebackers must now do much more than stop the run. 

“I feel like it’s a game of quickness, speed and, really, intelligence. At the end of the day you gotta be able to play football. And the bigger you are may help you in different aspects. But if you don’t have the quickness [or] the pass coverage ability, then you’re not going to last in today’s game,” Anderson said about the modern linebacker. 

At Tulane, Anderson was asked to do a little bit of everything from his spot at middle linebacker. Tulane’s defensive scheme often traded a third linebacker for an additional safety or edge rusher, which added more pressure on Anderson and Williams to make the correct play.  Even still, Anderson had 113 total tackles including 62 solo tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and four passes defended last year. 

Anderson’s best traits might not even be his good tackling or his versatility but rather his intangibles — both on and off the field. He plays with great leverage and positions himself well, both of which offset much of his size disadvantage. His leadership and intelligence are immediately apparent, as are his relentless motor and football instincts. He was the heart of Tulane’s defense, both as a vocal leader and as someone who brought immense energy to the gridiron. 

Nick Anderson
Anderson (1) leads the team in prayer before playing South Florida. During the season, he was the team’s spiritual leader (Courtesy of Parker Waters)

The other way Anderson could make NFL rosters is through special teams. NFL teams and Tulane head coach Willie Fritz operate so that players’ first opportunities to get on the field occur through special teams. 

“I’ve played special teams four years here at Tulane and have really excelled on punt and kickoff [coverage] this past year … In fact, I had a meeting with [the Dallas Cowboys], and they asked me, ‘What’s my goal for my rookie year?’ and I told them, ‘I want to be All-Pro on special teams [and] make the Pro Bowl on special teams my first year,’” Anderson said.

The Pro Day itself went well for Anderson. His numbers stack up well in the athletic drills compared to other linebacker prospects this year and he also impressed in the linebacker specific drills. However, he realizes that “the main thing that scouts look at is the film.” Primarily, teams want to see how players play football, not how well they can run 40 yards or how far they can jump.

In the linebacker drills, teams looked to see how well Anderson and Williams changed directions, something Tulane prepared them well for. Anderson gives Williams credit for helping him prepare for certain drills. Since Williams already saw most of these drills at the NFL Combine, he gave out tips and tricks to Anderson, specifically in the 40-yard dash and change of direction drills.

“We’ve always been [helping] each other, critiquing each other and making each other better men. And it was just good to do my broad jump and see he was the first person that ran out to me ready to celebrate and it really just a testament to our relationship and our brotherhood, and I’m just really excited for him,” Anderson said.

Immediately after the Pro Day, Anderson spoke with two teams. While still on the field, Aaron Curry, the new inside linebacker coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, had a long conversation with both Anderson and Williams. While Curry did talk some football and emphasized the importance of being a student of the game, he also gave some life advice which both linebackers said they appreciated.

The other team to meet Anderson was the New York Jets, who met with him in a more formal setting. The Jets, who had defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich present, talked football and broke down the New York defense. For his part, Anderson showed Ulbrich how he was a student of the game as well as his intelligence.

Nick Anderson (1) tackling Cincinnati QB Evan Prater. Anderson had 12 tackles against the Bearcats. (Courtesy of Parker Waters)

When I last spoke to him, Anderson was still waiting to hear back from other NFL teams, but he currently plans to attend two local Pro Days hosted by the New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans respectively. He will continue doing his draft day preparations in New Orleans, working with Coach Hester.

On a more personal note, Anderson said the thing he will miss the most about Tulane off the field is the family atmosphere. He will miss the conversations, relationships and experiences he had on this campus. 

It is still unclear what Anderson’s chances of getting drafted are. He certainly has interest from multiple teams, but the last two rounds of the NFL draft are difficult to predict. Last year, NFL teams drafted 30 linebackers, but this number includes both middle and outside linebackers. He could be drafted in the late rounds but at worst, he will likely sign in the priority free agency period right after the draft’s conclusion. Regardless, Anderson will have a long journey but will at least have the chance to make a full time roster.

“I’ve been doubted because of my size, every level of football I’ve been at. But, you know, I’ve always been to play with the best of the best and really just hoping that you know what I did yesterday. And also my film really shows NFL scouts that I’m just as good as anybody helping their roster,” Anderson said. 

“[I’m] really looking forward to the process, enjoying each and every day because, you know you only get drafted once right? So just really just trying to soak it all in and make the most of it because God is really blessing me, and a lot of people don’t get these opportunities.”

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