When a defensive lineman is drafted in the top 10 and isn’t an influential pass-rusher, he’s often labeled a bust.
Atlanta spent the eighth overall pick on Jamaal Anderson in 2007 and he started 60 games for the Falcons over four years. Four-and-a-half sacks later, he was considered a failure and sent packing.
But when the setting and expectations change, so can a player. With the Indianapolis Colts, Anderson has not been a disappointing first-rounder who doesn’t rush well enough. He has been a versatile run-stopper who has helped improve the front and taken a bit off the plate of Robert Mathis. Sometimes Anderson kicks inside as a tackle in nickel situations.
There is nothing to rave about on an 0-8 team, but Anderson is doing enough to rehabilitate his career and position himself for another contract with the Colts or someone else after the season.
“One of my downfalls was my lack of ability to rush the passer, so I thought what better than to come in under two great pass-rushers like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis?” Anderson said. “I’ve learned a lot from these guys and even though the season isn’t going like we want it to go, I feel like I am getting better week by week.”
A guy with a first-round pedigree usually gets a thorough look after he becomes available. The 2011 Colts didn’t view him like the 2008 Falcons did. And because of some of his physical qualities he will be attractive to some team after this season, a team that could get the sort of reward the Falcons wanted.
“I like Anderson,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “He can be a big base defensive end for the Colts in short-yardage situations or on run downs, but also can move inside to defensive tackle and give them the athletic ability they want from that position.
“Everyone considered Anderson a bust with Atlanta because he wasn’t a big sack guy. But he always played the run real well. If he would have been a second-round pick, everyone would consider him a solid football player. He was a good pickup for the Colts. In fact, their defensive line in general is pretty strong.”
Anderson sounds like a person who has things in perspective. He still recalls a conversation he had early in his NFL career with Michael Strahan.
“At the defensive end position, you might see a guy who has a huge impact his first year, but it’s highly unlikely it happens,” Anderson said. "My second year I met Michael Strahan in California. He said he remembered watching me on TV playing in college [at Arkansas] and the first thing he said was, ‘This guy looks exactly like me.’
“I took that as an honor, a guy like that saying he saw the same qualities. I remember him talking about his first few years in the league and how he had no idea what he was doing out there, how he couldn’t get the type of production he wanted. But he got about into his fourth year and that’s when he somewhat skyrocketed.”
Could a similar course be ahead for Anderson?
I don’t think he’s anticipating becoming a sack master. But he is only 25. He chose the Colts because he wanted to work with Freeney and Mathis and under respected defensive line coach John Teerlinck. And he believes he can be a productive player with developing upside no matter what others may think.
“It definitely stings,” he said of being regarded as a bust. “It’s not a label you like to have on your name. I remember my first couple years, it was definitely frustrating for me. I was hurt by it, that’s the easiest way to say it. But you have to be able to find your role and you have to be able to come into yourself.
“When Atlanta let me go I had plenty of phone calls from other teams who obviously saw something in me. I don’t look at myself as a bust, I look at myself as a player that’s getting better game by game and year by year and I am going to continue to do that.”
He’d like to remain with the Colts beyond this season. He loves that Teerlinck is still working with him as a pass-rusher and said it’s beyond weird to have joined such a good franchise and now be part of a winless team.
Anderson, defensive end Tyler Brayton (another run-stopper) and linebacker Ernie Sims were the sort of veteran free-agent additions Indianapolis doesn’t usually make. Vice chairman Bill Polian said during the preseason that a market flooded with more free agents than usual after a lockout and a new CBA created a unique situation that left such players available.
He’s not thinking about it now, but Anderson said he’d certainly like a chance to remain with the Colts in 2012.
With Peyton Manning back, big free-agent issues sorted out and the Colts given time to fix a terrible secondary, I’d like to see what Anderson could offer to a better version of the team.