One of the standard, and somewhat silly questions, draft prospects are always asked by media at the NFL Scouting Combine is regarding which teams they have met with. It is kind of silly because the reality is that at some point prospects of this caliber meet in some fashion with every team.
Yet, when Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders was asked that question on Wednesday morning, his answer got my attention.
The first team Sanders mentioned having met with, out of 11 combine team interviews he had done to that point, was the New York Giants.
Yes, the Giants. A team that desperately needs to infuse a linebacker corps that constantly changed in 2022 with additional talent.
Sanders said his meeting with the Giants was “a pretty cool ... relaxed interview.”
The Giants churned through linebackers in 2022. They cut Blake Martinez before the season started. They moved on from Austin Calitro and Tae Crowder during the season. They added free agent Jaylon Smith early in the season, then signed veteran Jarrad Davis off the Detroit Lions’ practice squad near the end of the year. They played rookie Micah McFadden, then didn’t play him, then re-inserted him into the lineup, then benched him in favor of Davis in the playoffs.
Point is, they never really found a satisfactory answer at the position.
Could the 6-foot-5, 233-pound Sanders, the 32nd-ranked prospect on the NFL Mock Draft Database Big Board and a player sometimes mocked to the Giants at No. 25, be the player in the draft the Giants turn to as a potential solution?
Sanders is a lean player who admitted on Wednesday during his media availability that he is “pretty raw” as an off-ball linebacker prospect.
Sanders was an offensive player as a kid — quarterback, wide receiver, running back.
“Wasn’t too good at throwing the ball, was pretty good at running the ball so ended up playing a little bit of receiver and running back,” he said.
Sanders played on both sides of the ball in high school while attending three different schools as he followed his father, a high school football coach, from school to school.
His heart, though, was on defense.
“I always thought my athletic ability was one of my strengths,” he said. “I really wanted to make the move back to [playing] on my feet. Really felt kind of comfortable making that decision.”
Sanders had two years of experience at Alabama as an edge defender, then transferred to Arkansas and played for the first time as on off-ball linebacker in 2022.
Sanders, though, trusts his tools.
“There’s a lot to improve on,” he said. “I feel pretty comfortable that I can cover a pass, get after the quarterback and stop the run.
“I’ve always trusted my speed and my athleticism. Feel comfortable in space.”
Sanders wanted to be a linebacker because of his father, Mitch.
“He was a running back and a linebacker by trade,” Sanders said. “My dad’s been my role model. I’ve always wanted to be like my dad. I’m pretty comfortable on my feet, obviously love the defensive side of the ball.”
Sanders might be a newbie at off-ball linebacker, but football has always been part of his life.
“My first time sitting in a team meeting I was three years old,” Sanders said. “I’ve been around football forever.”
When Sanders decided to attend Alabama out of high school, Mitch Sanders told Alabama media a story about his son developing a playbook at the age of five.
“He brought me a playbook that he had written. It was a very good playbook, but I couldn’t use it,” his father, Mitch Sanders, recalled with a laugh. “There would have been like 20 guys on offense and maybe three or four on defense. He’d be mad that I didn’t run that play.
“From the time he was probably five, I could not shake him on a Saturday. Whether it was going to my office at the school or coaches meetings, he would always sit in there. I think football IQ wise, he learns that stuff pretty quickly.”
Sanders admitted Wednesday that sacking the quarterback is still his favorite play. While that is more commonly associated with being an edge player, Sanders is committed to a future playing off the ball.
“That’s one of the first questions whenever I go in the room is where do I see myself in this league,” he said. “I always tell ‘em middle of the field.”
It’s a spot where the Giants could certainly use the help.