At least one HBCU football player has been drafted to the NFL in nine of the last ten seasons and Grambling State's Sundiata Anderson is the top candidate to continue the pipeline. The standout defensive end has the size of an NFL-caliber player, standing at 6'5'' and 250 lbs., but it's more than just measurables that has Anderson a season away from reaching his dreams.
A relentless player
Anderson had a breakout year last year, finishing with 50 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two forced fumbles. A successful season has led him to preseason SWAC defensive player of the year honors and a handful of All-American nods. A quick look at his film, and you'll find him terrorizing offensive linemen, quarterbacks and running backs. No matter where he's lined up, he's making plays near the ball.
"I think a defensive player should want nothing more than the ball, just to hunt down the ball every time," Anderson said. "I think that's what makes my game special, my tenacity towards the ball and my relentlessness.
Anderson's relentless pursuit is one of the intangible qualities that has him entering 2023 as one of the best players in the FCS and in the eyes of NFL scouts.
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It takes one to know one
No one knows Anderson's NFL potential better than his head coach Hue Jackson. Jackson coached in the NFL for 18 seasons, serving as a head coach for four different seasons. At the defensive end position, Jackson and his staff drafted former No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett (2017) and coached Pro Football Hall of Famer Richard Seymour. Jackson has been around great talent at Anderson's position, and he sees the determination and attention to detail required of a next-level player within him.
"He has a burning desire to be one of the best in college football," Jackson said. "He understands what it's going to take, not just on our level, but beyond."
That's strong words from a head coach on a star player, and the relationship between the two has been great. Jackson's NFL experience has benefited Anderson in his development as a player since the coach arrived at Grambling State in 2022.
"His main thing is to be a pro, act like a pro and key into the little details," said Anderson. "[Coach Jackson] is a heck of a mentor and tutor to me. He's seen it and been around it, so he has nothing but a whole lot of knowledge to offer me."
Anderson has been taking in the knowledge from Coach Jackson, who knows what it'll take for him to reach his goals. It's showing both on and off the field.
The work ethic
If you're looking for an indicator of Anderson's desire to be great, you can just look at him. Literally, just look at him.
Anderson gained 20 pounds during his final collegiate offseason to a now more physically imposing 250 pounds. The edge rusher added strength to a skill set that already featured impressive speed to become a more complete player. The gain in size has stood out to his teammates, and Anderson's work ethic has made him a leader at Grambling State.
"I think he's gonna really lead by example," said Jackson. He is vocal and I think it's great because he doesn't speak a lot, but when he does, you listen."
Anderson's leadership is one of the many key attributes that could stand out this season as he looks to impress pro scouts.
Carrying the torch
Anderson's talent and skills have him as the top HBCU NFL draft prospect entering the 2023 season in the eyes of many. However, getting to the NFL isn't a given after just one HBCU selection in 2023 and zero selections in 2021. Only the most dominant HBCU players have a shot at getting drafted.
"Sundiata understands that in order for him to have a chance [at the NFL] that he's gotta go dominate this year, and I think he'll do that," Coach Jackson said.
Dominating on the field isn't the only thing that comes with being a top HBCU prospect; there's also the impact Anderson's success has on the community. He understands the weight that being a top HBCU player with NFL aspirations holds for more than just himself.
"It means a lot to me. Just for my teammates first, showing them that it can be done and then to show all the high schoolers that it's a reason to go to HBCUs," said Anderson. "I know it's bigger than me and that's what drives me every day."
Number of FCS NFL draft picks over the last decade:— Stan Becton (@stan_becton) April 29, 2023
Number of FCS HBCU NFL draft picks over the last decade:
Just having fun
For all the hype surrounding Anderson, it could be hard to stay level given the high expectations from himself, Grambling State, the HBCU community and NFL scouts. Yet, he's not letting the pressure get to him.
"It's no pressure when you're playing a sport you love. I'm just having fun every day," Anderson said.
He should have a lot of fun this fall in the backfield of SWAC opponents.