Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders will forgo the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and his senior season to enter his name into the 2023 NFL Draft. Pete Thamel of ESPN first reported the news.
“I will forever be grateful for Coach (Sam) Pittman, Coach (Barry) Odom, Coach (Michael) Scherer and the University of Arkansas for allowing me to be a part of the Razorback family,” Sanders said in tweet Tuesday. “Without my coaches and teammates being there for me every step of the way this season, I would not have the opportunities I have today. It was truly an honor and a privilege to be able to work with this group of guys every day.”
After transferring in from Alabama, Sanders quickly became a household name in the state of Arkansas and around the country this season. A finalist for the Butkus Award and an AP First Team All-SEC selection, Sanders put together an impressive season during his only year in Fayetteville.
“Razorback nation, it was truly an unbelievable experience to be able to play in front of you in Razorback Stadium,” Sanders said. “Memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
The junior from Denton, Texas, racked up 103 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, six pass deflections and one interception. He also added 26 QB hurries and he didn’t allow a touchdown on 27 targets in coverage.
As Arkansas’ leading tackler, Sanders anchored an Arkansas defense that led the SEC with 39 sacks. His 13.5 tackles for loss this season are the most by a Hog defender since DE Trey Flowers totaled 13.5 in 2014 and his 9.5 sacks are the most since DE Chris Smith tallied the same amount in 2012.
A two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Week awardee, Sanders is only the second FBS defender since 2000 with 95 or more total tackles (Buffalo LB Khalil Mack in 2013) and at least 12.0 tackles for loss, eight sacks, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception in a season.
Since 2000, Sanders is one of two FBS defenders to have recorded double-digit tackles with two sacks, two forced fumbles and at least one pass breakup in a game, joining former Ole Miss Rebel Greg Hardy vs. Alabama in 2007.
Sanders played 846 snaps and he was graded as the third best linebacker in the SEC by Pro Football Focus.
Most mock drafts have him projected to be a late first round pick. A recent mock from The Athletic had him going 24th overall to the New York Giants, and Sports Illustrated recently mocked Sanders as the 20th overall pick to the Denver Broncos.
His absence, paired with Bumper Pool’s absence (hip surgery), will leave redshirt freshman Chris “Pooh” Paul Jr. as the top linebacker for the Liberty Bowl against Kansas on Dec. 28. True freshmen Jordan Crook and Mani Powell will likely see an increased workload, as well as redshirt sophomore Jackson Woodard.