Measurables: 5-foot-11, 220 pounds.
2014 stats: N/A.
Nebraska linebacker Zaire Anderson declared for the 2015 NFL Draft but he didn’t hear his name called. The Denver Broncos made him one of nine undrafted rookies they signed, shortly after the draft concluded.
At 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, Anderson doesn’t have the prototypical size of a NFL linebacker. But then again, neither did Wesley Woodyard, who also went undrafted out of Kentucky in 2008, entering the league at 219 pounds. Nevertheless, Woodyard made the Broncos final 53-man roster as a rookie and went on to carve himself out a nice NFL career.
Anderson is hoping for a similar career trajectory. As a senior at Nebraska, he led the team in tackles, tallying 103 total on his way to earning honorable-mention All-Big Ten accolades. He is an instinctive tackling machine, as MHH resident draftnik Erick Trickel concluded in his scouting report on Anderson following the draft.
He [Anderson] has great instincts against the run, but if an offensive lineman gets their hands on him, he is out of the play. With blitzing, he is quick and agile, which makes him hard to engage, but if he is engaged, he won’t have an impact. One note about his game, he is quick and rangy, which potentially will help him when it comes time to start putting the roster together.
In a 4-3 defense, Anderson would be a “WILL” (weakside) linebacker, where his speed and instincts could be a force on the edge—in space. However, in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, Anderson is at least 20 pounds shy of being a viable option at inside linebacker. NFL offensive lineman would likely have their way with him.
This is where his future prospects with the Broncos come into question. Where would he fit in? In the case of Woodyard, he set himself apart as a special teams ace. Anderson will have to not only flash on defense, but also create value in the third phase.
It’s not beyond reckoning that the Broncos might give him a try at strong safety, where they’re a little thin. Behind starter T.J. Ward, the team has David Bruton, who is more of a jack-of-all trades player and not necessarily a quintessential strong safety.
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The Broncos also drafted Oklahoma State defensive back Josh Furman in the seventh round, with the hope of him earning a spot at strong safety. Factoring in that the Broncos have a veritable log-jam at inside linebacker behind Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan, including two John Elway draft picks—Corey Nelson and Lamin Barrow—safety might be Anderson’s best shot at making the final roster.
At the end of the day, however, the scheme fit and roster juxtaposition doesn’t bode well for him. There might be a place for him somewhere in the National Football League, but it likely isn’t going to be in Denver. If he doesn't work out in Denver, hopefully Zaire Anderson can put some solid performances on tape in the preaseason and pop up on another team’s radar.
We certainly can't rule him out in Denver yet. It's much too early, but each and every year, the eye in the sky helps players buried on NFL depth charts get jobs elsewhere. Anderson has the talent to play in this league, he just might need a team that better suits his skill-set.