2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Vanderbilt LB Anfernee Orji

From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling Vanderbilt LB Anfernee Orji.

#0 Anfernee Orji, LB, Vanderbilt (SR) – 6010, 230LBS

Shrine Bowl / NFL Combine

Measurements

Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
Anfernee Orji 6’1 230bs 10 1/4 32 N/A
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone  
4.53 1.54 4.43 7.00  
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press    
10’2″ 38.5 DNP    

The Good

Athletic profile in size and speed is eye-catching
Has solid closing speed in his pursuit
Productive tackler who is usually in the frame at the end of a play
Good base to build from in coverage, gets out to space quickly and stays with routes
Plays with good hustle and motor overall
Relatively consistent at preserving his gap integrity

The Bad

Struggles in technique to shed blocks quickly and consistently
Has a noticeable lack of upper body strength when engaged with blockers
Testing numbers were better than the athleticism displayed on film
Takes far too many false steps, lacks natural instincts to read, diagnose and attack consistently
Appeared to play more Sam than Will in 2022 (in the games I watched, at least), which isn’t suited for his skillset

Bio

Four-star linebacker out of high school in Texas
Started 32 straight games to close his Vanderbilt career
2022 second-team All-SEC
Family took regular trips back to their homeland of Nigeria, including trips with the Acho family
Once helped raise over $70k through GoFundMe to support a Vanderbilt quality control coach’s girlfriend who was struck by lightning
Older brother Alston also played linebacker for Vanderbilt, younger brother Alex is a quarterback at Michigan
Career Stats: 272 tackles, 22 for a loss including four sacks with five forced fumbles, six pass deflections and an interception

Tape Breakdown

Anfernee Orji is the kind of prospect that will pique your interest until the film comes on, where certain aspects don’t seem to match up. A fairly outstanding RAS score and high praises on scouting reports about what he can develop into aren’t glaringly present on tape. Still, the three-year starter and captain for the hapless Commodores was a notable presence on his defense that was constantly around the ball.

Rarely truly out of position, Orji could find himself in the right spot at the right time to give help to players already making the play or find himself making the play altogether as he did here in the season opener against Hawaii. Orji fills his gap and is held a bit by the reaching center as he tries to make his way into the backfield. The outside zone run reaches the edge, but when the safety arrives to fill the lane and knocks the ball free, Orji is able to quickly react to the ball and haul in the fumble before it hits the turf, turning down the field to score.

Orji, to me, looks bigger on film at times, but he is a natural Will linebacker. In the games I watched, he appeared to play more Sam for Vanderbilt, but being one of the weaker teams in the country, that could be a personnel issue. I wouldn’t anticipate his versatility in Vanderbilt to translate to the NFL. Nonetheless, Orji flashes sound ability as a coverage backer. Here are a few solid examples

The first is against Hawaii, where Orji shows that he can be a strong tackler in space by lighting up this crossing route that is caught in his zone. (far-side linebacker)

This next clip against Kentucky is more to show the speed of his reaction to the play action and how quickly he can get back into his zone. While he is in the final frame, Orji doesn’t impact this play. Still, he reads play action at a respectable pace before flipping his hips to get into his hook zone where he looks for a receiver to cover before getting his eyes back to the quarterback as the pass is away. Not a great rep, but it’s solid. (Middle linebacker)

The last coverage snap is also against Kentucky and it’s an interesting one. After the pre-snap motion, Orji is lined up over center showing blitz before backing off and running with the crossing tight end. Orji is a bit grabby here, but he gets in step with the tight end and gets underneath his route to take the option away as the quarterback begins to scramble. A bit more head-scratching is how Orji gets back over the top of the tight end at the end of the route. A slight glimpse of poor body control and erratic feet in my estimation. 

On to the run game, against Hawaii and Kentucky, Orji wasn’t stacking and shedding linemen, instead opting to run around blocks. I had a feeling he lacked the technique and strength to actually take on blocks and within a few plays against Alabama, I was proven right as Javion Cohen cleaned his plate on this play. (near-side linebacker)

Orji takes false steps and doesn’t appear to trust his eyes, leading to poor instincts overall. While he’s sound at filling his gap, his feet and mind take him on an extended journey to the football far too often. In this clip against Kentucky, Orji sees the high snap, sees Levis abort the play and scramble forward and yet he still inexplicably begins to move away from the play. This leads to him running around the far side of the lineman attempting to block him. Orji still makes the play for a short gain, but his decisions leading up to the tackle are frustrating.

Orji’s pairing of size and testing numbers suggest a sideline-to-sideline linebacker, yet he continuously struggled on the field to scrape down the line of scrimmage with a proper angle to be such a player. Here against Hawaii, Orji properly contains his gap, but as the back’s hips are turned to extend further outside, Orji has already squared his hips and broken down for a tackle attempt. Once he realizes the back is in fact running to green grass instead of directly at him, Orji can’t recover and his safety help takes a horrendous angle to boot, leading to a long touchdown run.

A further example of how he struggles to scrape, only this time Orji gets blocked and bullied by a tight end before he’s truly begun to diagnose the play. Orji keeps in step with the back, clearly keying him to the mesh point. But as the tight end arrives, Orji bounces away from the block and the play to avoid contact, only making it easier for the tight end to push him out of the equation.

All isn’t lost with Orji, though. He has tools to work with. On the very next play, the Wildcats run the same play while Vanderbilt is in a different alignment, changing the blocking assignments and leaving Orji unblocked. Orji properly scrapes down the line, meeting the running back in the backfield until help arrives. When he uses his eyes and trusts his instincts, letting his technique take over, Orji can be a solid player.

Conclusion

Anfernee Orji isn’t a classic wrecking ball linebacker with unparalleled aggression, but he’s a sound run-fit backer. Orji also isn’t the new wave of sideline-to-sideline, slightly undersized athletic machines the NFL has been prone to look for – though he tests well and is serviceable in coverage. Instead, he’s somewhere in the middle, which can actually be a good thing. Ironically though, with three years of experience playing this way in the SEC, Orji has hard habits to break.

The Steelers haven’t shown much interest in Orji leading up to the draft, but he is a Day 3 prospect that will most likely be available after a Dorian Williams-type linebacker is gone. That said if the Steelers are looking for a special teams linebacker later in the draft rather than a guy expected to step in and compete to be a starter in the next two seasons, Orji is worth a look. What tools he does have, shows a guy that can at the very least contribute consistently on special teams while he breaks those bad habits to eventually contribute on defense.

Projection: Mid-Day 3

Depot Draft Grade: 6.9 – Backup/Special Teamer (5th Round)

Games Watched: Hawaii ‘22, Alabama ‘22, Kentucky ‘22

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