Alabama Football: Will Anderson Jr. and the shadow of Derrick Thomas

Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports /

Making comparisons of Will Anderson Jr. to Alabama football legend Derrick Thomas is inevitable. Doing so is also somewhat unfair to the younger man. Anderson is an outstanding college football player. Some college football pundits suggest Anderson might keep Bryce Young from winning another Heisman after the 2022 season.

Every accolade Will Anderson Jr. receives is earned and even without a 2022 Heisman, Anderson could become the Crimson Tide’s most dominant linebacker – since the incomparable Derrick Thomas.

The impressive list of Alabama Crimson Tide linebacking legends will include Anderson. To some, he might become viewed as the best. At the least, he will be acknowledged as one of the best.

Just making the list of the five best Alabama football linebackers of all time would be an exceptional achievement for Anderson. With a 2022 season that matches or exceeds his 2021 performance, Will Anderson will deserve such distinction.

Before Anderson’s sophomore season, we offered a conclusion of the Crimson Tide’s greatest linebackers ever. Choosing the finalists was an easy decision. All of them are members of the College Football Hall of Fame. They were Lee Roy Jordan, Woodrow Lowe, Cornelius Bennett and Derrick Thomas.

Might Will Anderson Jr. someday become the fifth? Anderson is poised to become the official, all-time sack leader for the Crimson Tide. Since sacks did not become an official stat until 2000, Derrick Thomas is the unofficial single-season and career sack leader in college football. His career sack total is even more remarkable given he played in the shadow of Cornelius Bennett. As a freshman and sophomore, Thomas totaled only a combined seven sacks. His explosion of 18 in 1987 and 27 in 1988, gave him 52 for his college career.

Officially the all-time SEC sack leader is former Tennessee Vol, Derek Barnett with 32. The ‘official’ record-holder for the Crimson Tide is Jonathan Allen with 28 career sacks. Now at 24.5, Will Anderson is expected to pass Allen and Barnett during the 2022 season. It is conceivable the Crimson Tide junior, barring injury, could approach Thomas’ single-season record of 27. He tallied 17.5 last season.

Alabama Football Team Leader

By one measurement, Anderson has already surpassed Thomas. Anderson is a team leader as much off the field as he is on it. In a standard impossible to quantify, Will Anderson Jr. must be considered one of the Crimson Tide’s best all-time team leaders.

Derrick Thomas led on the field. The description of him off the field was different. In 2015, provided a close look at Thomas’ life and Alabama career,

"For all of that ability, though, Thomas had a bad habit of showing up late for team meetings and for dozing off in them after he arrived."

According to the article, Sylvester Croom’s frequent punishments for Thomas’ tardiness and inattentiveness had little impact on the Crimson Tide superstar. Will Anderson Jr. is the polar opposite of such behavior.

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Note: Derrick Thomas’ Crimson Tide stats are available in the ‘Archives’ section at