Will Anderson flourishes as freshman linebacker for top-ranked Crimson Tide

Alabama photo by Kent Gidley / Alabama freshman outside linebacker Will Anderson (31) has racked up seven sacks for the Crimson Tide in their past four games.

Alabama's talented offensive trio of quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris and receiver DeVonta Smith are finalists for multiple national college football awards.

Perhaps it's because they haven't had to face Will Anderson in any games.

The true freshman outside linebacker has been a menace for the Crimson Tide, starting all 11 games this season and racking up 43 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. His seven sacks for 39 yards are team-leading totals for the Southeastern Conference champions.

"I like calling him 'The Terminator,' because he is always by the ball just destroying whoever has the ball," a laughing Jones said this week. "He's done a great job all year. I saw it early on. He can pass rush really well. He can run stop really well.

"He just does his job, and for a freshman to come in and work his tail off - I just have a lot of respect for a guy like that. He's a quiet guy who just puts his head down and goes to work."

Linebacker was a weakness for Alabama last year, when preseason injuries to inside starters Joshua McMillon and Dylan Moses shelved them for an 11-2 campaign with losses to SEC West rivals LSU and Auburn. True freshmen Christian Harris and Shane Lee filled in admirably, and their gained experience coupled with the return of McMillon and Moses offered the promise of better days this season.

The emergence of redshirt junior outside linebacker Christopher Allen this season after an injury-plagued start to his Tide career has been a plus, but not many were pegging the five-star Anderson to be this dominant from the jump.

"He's made a tremendous impact," junior cornerback Patrick Surtain II said. "For him being a freshman and stepping in during big-time games and making plays like he has shows that the future is bright for him.

"He's still raw, even though that sounds crazy, but he's a beast."

The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Hampton was rated the nation's No. 1 weakside defensive end and No. 17 prospect overall in the 247Sports.com composite rankings during the 2020 recruiting cycle. There have been recent five-star linebackers such as Mack Wilson who took some time to develop in Tuscaloosa, and others such as Ben Davis who needed even longer.

That wasn't the case with Anderson, who earned a starting role during the preseason and collected three tackles and three quarterback pressures in the 38-19 opening triumph at Missouri. Yet his early play pales in comparison to recent outings, as Anderson notched his first sack of the season in the Iron Bowl and has since added two apiece against LSU, Arkansas and in last Saturday night's topping of Florida in the SEC championship game.

Anderson may not be producing the headlines of Jones, Harris or Smith, but there is no doubting his value heading into the College Football Playoff semifinal against Notre Dame on New Year's Day in Arlington, Texas.

"He brings a lot of energy," Jones said. "When he makes plays, you can see him celebrating. Obviously the defensive guys love him, and the offensive guys love him. He's definitely been a great addition to our team this year, and I'm looking forward to watching him get even better as time goes on."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.