ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Despite a productive collegiate career at Nebraska, linebacker Zaire Anderson went undrafted this past spring. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound tackling machine was considered to be ‘too small’ by most NFL scouts, thus his plummet through and completely out of the draft.
He might lack ideal size for a linebacker in the NFL, but you can’t measure heart. And Zaire Anderson has a lot of it. He has a great motor and is very instinctual on the field. The Denver Broncos signed him as a college free agent and he took his place at the very bottom of their inside linebacker depth chart, wearing a jersey number made famous by safety John Lynch.
Not only is Anderson behind the big-name guys like Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan, but he also faces the obstacle of working to outshine two 2014 Broncos draft picks in Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson, who both earned a spot on the roster last season.
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The deck is most definitely stacked against Anderson, but he’s bringing the fire nonetheless. As training camp has marched ahead, he has increasingly begun to flash and stand out among his ILB brethren.
“Yeah, I can tell you've been watching because you're right, he has flashed,” Head coach Gary Kubiak said Tuesday after practice. “He flashes every day. He's small. You watch him stature-wise work out and you say, 'Can you play in there?' But there have been some great guys do that. I can think of [former NFL LB] Zach Thomas for many, many years standing across from that center.”
Another guy, closer to Broncos Country’s heart, who entered the league as an ‘undersized’ linebacker was Wesley Woodyard. Although he now plays in Tennessee, Woodyard made the Broncos final roster in 2008 as an undrafted rookie. He entered camp that year around 220 pounds, too.
He separated himself as a worker and special teams contributor. Woodyard went on to have a good career in Denver, steadily moving up the depth chart. His 2012 season was one of the best seasons from a linebacker in team history. He deserved the Pro Bowl but didn’t get it. He eventually parlayed that juice into a four-year, $15.75 million contract with the Titans.
The NFL offers that same opportunity to Zaire Anderson. The new Broncos coaching staff are not beholden to Barrow and Nelson. Although John Elway wouldn’t likely want to see them fail to make the roster, at the end of the day, the best players will get the job.
Anderson still has a long way to go, before he can cement himself a spot on the final roster. But he’ll get a chance to show what he can do in real game action this Friday vs. the Seattle Seahawks. So far in his short pro career, Kubiak is impressed with what Zaire Anderson has shown.
“He's a leader,” Kubiak said. “He handles the huddle really well. He loves contact. [Linebackers Coach] Reggie's [Herring] done a good job with him, but you have to give the kid a lot of credit. He's come a long way.”
Don’t sleep on Anderson as a darkhorse to make the Broncos final roster.
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