Will JA#98 be a boom or bust? Perhaps the biggest question on the minds of Falcons fans this off-season and leading into training camp, pre-season, and regular season. Also a question that has a serious polarizing effect on fans as well. Two camps have seemed to develop into an even split around the former overall #8 draft pick in 2007 by Bolt Petrino.
Many fans believe that Anderson is already approaching bust status, registering only two sacks in two years. It was certainly a somewhat risky pick drafting a player who came out his junior year and only played the position for a couple of years. His short span at Arkansas led the SEC in sacks with 13.5, no small accomplishment in arguably the toughest conference in college football. Even though he possessed all the physical tools and abilities, Rich McKay had to know that he would be a project. Anderson has even produced some downright ire from some fans, thinking that he was a bust last year, and going as far as having the feeling that he should be shipped out of town tomorrow. While that might be a bit on the extreme side, they certainly do have a reason to expect more from a top 10 draft pick. Another line of reasoning from his detractors believe that with such a Herculean effort from John Abraham on the other side, totaling 16.5 sacks and getting a Pro-Bowl snub, that Anderson should be blowing up the quarterback in the same frame how the Colts Robert Mathis raised his game with Dwight Freeney being such a force on the opposite edge.
The other side is more supportive and feels that Anderson deserves this year to prove himself. Their argument follows the logic that while he may not be producing high numbers of sacks, that he has been extremely solid in the run game and has come within inches of many sacks. Anderson supporters will also point out that Anderson has not had a ton of help taking away pressure in Grady Jackson or the thin depth behind him at the defensive tackle spot. With first round pick Peria Jerry and a healthy Trey Lewis on board, his supporters are expecting a staggering breakout year. Many believe that Anderson would be more ideally suited to a 3-4 scheme, which Coach Smith and Coach Van Gorder look to possibly implement this year. Another point brought up involves the fact that Anderson is relatively new to the position and has had two different coaches in two years and that it is a natural progression for defensive ends. A tale of the tape with other DE comparisons in their first two years, around Anderson’s draft pick of 8th:
Player (Year Drafted – Position Drafted)
Dwight Freeney (2002 – 11th) 1st year: 13 sacks, 2nd year: 11 sacks
Terrell Suggs (2003 – 10th) 1st year: 12 sacks, 2nd year: 10.5 sacks
Michael Haynes (2003 – 14th) 1st year: 2 sacks, 2nd year: 2 sacks
Will Smith (2004 – 18th) 1st year: 7.5 sacks, 2nd year: 8.5 sacks
Erasmus James (2005 – 18th) 1st year: 4 sacks, 2nd year: 0 sacks
Kamerion Wimbley (2006 – 8th) 1st year: 11 sacks, 2nd year: 5 sacks
Tamba Hali (2006 – 20th) 1st year: 8 sacks, 2nd year: 7.5 sacks
Jamaal Anderson (2007 – 8th) 1st year: 0 sacks, 2nd year: 2 sacks
Jarvis Moss (2007 – 17th) 1st year: 1 sack, 2nd year: 2.5 sacks
One thing that both sides can agree on is that this is definitely a put-up or shut-up year for Jamaal Anderson at defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons. The excuses of being new to the position, having different head coaches, and playing solid in the run game won’t cut it for another year. Right or wrong, defensive ends are judged on sacks at the end of the day. Supporting the run, putting good pressure on quarterbacks and running backs are very well and good, but without those all-important sack numbers, it will not be enough. And if Anderson didn’t already feel enough pressure from the fans, the Falcons not only resigned Chauncey Davis close to starter’s level money and a guarantee of a fair competition from Coach Smith, but they also drafted Lawrence Sidbury in the 4th round of this years draft. All indications are good that Anderson knows the pressure and responsibility in front of him and has gotten glowing reviews from the coaching staff in the off-season for his tireless work ethic and maturation. He seems to be in very good graces with the coaching staff, which is all that ultimately matters anyway. Being a former top 10 pick, Anderson will certainly be given every opportunity to have a breakout year by the coaching staff. The time for waiting is over.
1) What side of the fence do you fall on the JA debate?
2) What will Anderson need to do to prove he’s arrived?
3) How many games does Anderson have to prove himself?
Next Topic Preview: Leadership Gap with Abraham? Can Chauncey Supplant JA#98?