As the draft approaches, tensions rise.
Killing time in these final days can be the hardest part of a long process for aspiring pros. The interviews, workouts and weigh-ins are over. In the final calm, the stress sets in.
Not so for Eryk Anders.
Though one of the heroes of Alabama’s 2009 national championship season, the one-year starter isn’t feeling that anxiety. He’s just hanging out in Tuscaloosa, watching a little television, waiting to hear his named called.
Unlike his former defensive mates like Rolando McClain, Kareem Jackson and Javier Arenas, Anders won’t be in for the nail biting Thursday or Friday. He knows the opening rounds will not include his selection. It will be Saturday’s late rounds when he’s hoping to hear his name called.
The undersized linebacker and his first-year agent are hopeful something good will come out of this weekend. John Phillips, also a University of Alabama graduate with nine months experience as an agent, said Anders’ late season rise has only continued through the winter and spring months.
“If you would have asked me a month ago, frankly I would have been pleased, maybe even a little surprised if he had gotten drafted,” Phillips said. “Now it’s to the point I’d be disappointed if he didn’t.”
Coming away from meetings with pro scouts, Anders’ maturity and intelligence has driven his rising stock. And it will certainly make an impact on the kind of money he can expect.
A player drafted in the seventh round averages a payday ranging from $47,000 to $53,000 while undrafted free agents can get $5,000 to $10,000 signing bonuses with nothing guaranteed. As of Tuesday evening, Phillips said there is a handful of teams considering him for a late-round pick with another five to seven very interested in him as a free agent if Plan A doesn’t pan out.
It’s quite a leap for a one-time unheralded recruit coming out of San Antonio. Scout.com gave him zero stars of five and was considered undersized to make an impact in the Southeastern Conference.
Move ahead four years, and Anders is making one of the more memorable plays in Alabama’s recent history. The clean hit on Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert and forced fumble in the closing minutes of the BCS national championship game helped clinch the win and catapult reputation among pro scouts.
It’s a play he hears about “pretty much every time I go out,” he said.
Of his 66 total tackles as a senior, a team-high seven came in the Rose Bowl that January night. He had seven more against Auburn in the last game of the regular season.
Phillips, who gave up his job at a Florida law firm that bore his name to become an agent, said Anders’ grit and character drew him in. There were other potential draftees with higher stocks, but Phillips wanted a guy like Anders who had the better mental approach. According to Phillips’ website, his client roster includes former South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe and Anders’ former Alabama roommate Zeke Knight, who transferred to Stillman College after leaving the Tide for medical reasons.
In the end, it still takes talent to make it in the league.
To help hone those skills, Anders worked out at an Atlanta gym on a plan tailored specifically for players looking to be drafted. Not invited to the NFL scouting combine, Anders focused on the early March date when all 32 NFL teams went to Tuscaloosa for pro day. He said feedback was positive although his 40-yard dash time of 4.61 missed his goal by a hair.
It’s his speed, Anders said, that’s helped overcome the perceived lack of size. At 6-foot-1, 242 pounds, his light frame makes him better suited for attacking the increasingly popular spread offense.
“Of course everybody wants someone who is 6-4, 250, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter,” Anders said. “I’m quicker.”
As the draft draws nearer, Anders said his anxiety level remains the same. He thinks about it quite a bit, but it doesn’t raise his blood pressure.
There will be no draft day parties. Just a quite day with his mother in his Tuscaloosa apartment, watching and waiting for his future to change.
It will be a no-stress zone for the former Alabama linebacker for one simple reason.
“I know I’m going to get my opportunity,” he said. “When and where, I can’t tell you that. But I’m going to make the most of it when I get it.”