Jordan Anderson: Path To The NFL Draft

By Simon Carroll

Motivation is a curious thing. It can come from a positive experience or a negative one, and be rooted in a range of emotions. But it can also be a powerful thing, something that takes you to places you could never imagine – and pair it with talent and work ethic and you’ve got a recipe for success.

For Jordan Anderson, the list of motivations that have propelled him from a young boy enamored with Barry Sanders to the verge of an NFL career is extensive. From staying out of trouble to putting a new home on the football map, or from proving he was amongst college football’s elite at his position to showing he belongs at the pro level; Anderson’s drive has put him on the precipice of achieving a lifelong dream. The former Bowling Green and UCLA safety sits down with Simon Carroll to discuss his path to the NFL Draft:

A Sports Family In A Sports City

As far as sporting cities go, Detroit, Michigan is up there with the biggest of them. With four franchises in four different sports, it’s a blue collar, working class municipality that prides itself on sports teams that play with a similar mentality. Home to Jordan Anderson, the Motor City may have had one less resident if not for some divine intervention:

“I was born and raised in Detroit. I’m the youngest of four kids, my parents will have been married for 20 years in September. I actually have a funny story; a lot of people when they’re messing with me, they call me the miracle child, because my mom had her ‘tubes tied’ when she had me! She didn’t even know she was pregnant with me until she was a little sick and went to the doctor, who gave her a big surprise. So a crazy start for me – and needless to say, my mom is loving how things have turned out.”

If Anderson’s entry into the world was unexpected, his introduction to sports certainly was not. Following in the footsteps of his brothers and sister, Jordan was quick to embrace every pastime possible – and whilst football had to wait a little longer, it soon became the most important of them all:

“All my life I’ve been playing sports. Whether it was football, basketball, track or baseball – me and all my siblings would be doing something at all times. And out of them all, I was the one that took it the furthest; going into high school, then the collegiate level, and now the NFL Draft. But I had that competitive thirst for sport from a young age – I played baseball first because I wasn’t old enough to play football. And as the youngest, I’m watching my siblings and relatives play football, and desperate to play myself. I finally got a taste of it when my brother and cousin started playing for a team right around the street called the Titans. Once they showed me some highlights of Barry Sanders, I was fully locked in – this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

As far as sporting icons go, it’s hard to top Barry Sanders. A Heisman Trophy winner that racked up 15,000 yards and 99 touchdowns in the NFL, and spent all of his professional career in Detroit – Jordan Anderson won’t be the first or last young boy to be inspired by one of the greatest running backs in football history:

“Barry Sanders – he was the reason I wanted to be a running back. Even though I was young, I remember vividly watching him. I wanted to score touchdowns too, and from that moment I was just begging my parents to let me play. They’d take me to watch my brother, and I’d beg the coaches to let me in too! I think a year later, when I was six, they finally let me play – even though you were supposed to be seven. That leeway allowed me to start my football career, and the rest is history.”

High School Hero

From that moment on, Jordan Anderson was destined to be a high school star on the gridiron. Balling out at not one school but two, Anderson gives credit to one coach in particular who left a mark on his football journey to this day:

“Originally I went to East English Village High School down the street. It was a fairly new school, getting a good reputation in sports, and we’d just had some people from there go on to D1 and then the league too – Desmond King, Chauncy Golston who I played with as a freshman, Kahlil Hill, and Sam Womack who just got drafted a couple of years ago. I played with Desjuan Johnson too, who came through there – so it was a program with pedigree. Coach Rod Oden, he’s my mentor – he built an amazing culture there, and I just loved the way he coached. Very hands on, but a laid back guy, which was great for kids. He’d give us maximum exposure, driving us around in the shuttle across the MidWest to get us to college camps. He devoted a lot of time to us and I appreciated it.”

Still trying to emulate Barry Sanders as a running back, Anderson earned more than 2,500 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground in his high school career. Following his mentor to a second school in Detroit, Jordan’s career took a turn, with a position change that would ultimately set him up for a collegiate career:

“I played running back there for three years, and was pretty good at it! I had a scholarship offer to go to Iowa State, which I eventually declined to play defense. At East English Village I played a bit of corner and safety too, and when Coach Oden left to go to Harper Woods, pretty much all the football team decided to join him! We helped him start the process of building a dynasty there – and they actually just won their first state championship there this past season. But the change to defense I guess officially started in eighth grade – I was heading to a camp as a running back, and a coach asked me why? I didn’t understand at first, but the school was experimenting with the defense a little, and he explained that DB’s spend more time on the field, and have more opportunity. They’re considered more valuable and that made it easier to get a scholarship. So I made the transition then – but I’m still a running back at heart!”

Anderson finished his high school career in style. A team captain, he married his offensive stats with 97 tackles and 12 interceptions on defense. Receiving a multitude of all-city, metro, conference and state honors across both sides of the ball, he was ready to take his game to the next level: College was calling.

Finding The Falcons

For a lot of high school athletes, the recruiting process can be a frustrating experience. And despite having a healthy amount of interest from some big programs, Jordan Anderson had some adversity of his own making to deal with:

“My first offer was Syracuse, then it was Indiana – so I had some P5 offers. And I was looking to go to Syracuse first; I liked the coaching staff, and one of my good friends and former teammates at East English was committed there too. I was real familiar with the campus, and the DC and DB coach came to see me at school and said they loved me. But me being selfish and not knowing about how recruiting classes build up quick, I was holding out and being greedy, see what other offers came along. When I tried to sign for Syarcuse, they told me their class was full, that I’d taken too long to make the decision. Once that happened I started to look elsewhere.”

Anderson didn’t waste time evaluating his other options. Residing in the heart of the MidWest, one conference in particular was well aware of his talents. And it was a program in Northern Ohio that Jordan decided would be home for the next four years of his football career:

“I started taking note of the MAC offers I had. Bowling Green, it’s just 90 minutes away from Detroit – they had good recent history too, had been in the conference championship game the two seasons before. And the game is in Detroit at Ford Field, so I’d seen them play in those games. I went there, was made a priority by them and told I had a chance of playing as a freshman. That opened my eyes! I made the choice to be a Falcon, and never looked back.”

The Mid-American Conference, or MAC, is an FBS conference that is garnering a cult status amongst college football fans. With midweek evening games in remote outposts from New York to Illinois, it treads a different path to the other Group of Five conferences. Despite finishing his career elsewhere, the love that Anderson has for the MAC and Bowling Green in particular is obvious. In fact, he’s proudly wearing a Falcons training top over his chiseled torso as we discuss the finer points of the conference he used to dominate in:

“The MAC is fun man, it’s definitely a different breed of conference. And I still wear all the Bowling Green gear now! That school means a lot to me – and I love repping them when I’m training right now for the draft. I’ve got gear for days – and I’m a proud alum too – I’ll never stop supporting them.”

Making His Mark

When Bowling Green told Jordan Anderson they wanted him to make an immediate impact with the Falcons, it wasn’t just a disingenuous recruiting ploy – they meant it. There was no redshirt season for Anderson, who went on to play in ten games in 2019, starting seven of them. Jordan credits the quality of his football back home that had him ready to contribute from day one:

“I think the program that I was bred from, it stood me in good stead for when I got to college. I’ve always had good, strong coaching, even all the way back to my little league or seven on seven days. And Detroit football is serious now – it’s either eat or be eaten, and my coaches did a good job in preparing me for that.  I felt like I was ready, like I knew the game of football before I even got to Bowling Green. But once I got onto that practice field on campus, could see how the game goes at that level, adjust to the speed and pickup the terminology quick – it was all go from there.”

‘All go’ for Anderson manifested itself in 51 total tackles, including 27 solo tackles, two TFL’s and a sack. He also recorded one interception, one forced fumble and seven pass break-ups in a season that he is rightly proud of. But it didn’t come immediately – Jordan had to earn the right to take the field at such a young age:

“I was always a quick learner, and they could see I knew it. Eventually they had no choice but to give me a chance. And I was actually down as a corner when I got to Bowling Green. But as I got bigger, and I already was pretty big – don’t forget I was also a running back – it was obvious I was going to be more suited to a safety role. The coaches and me, we made that adjustment immediately. That first season, they had me third on the depth chart, which was a bummer for me! I’ve always been the man where I’ve played. So it started slow, but then the DC who recruited me got fired. The new coordinator, he didn’t know me as well, but he wasn’t scared to give me a go. The guys above me on the depth chart, it was only because I’d only just got there. They weren’t better than me. I knew I just had to earn it, so I got on that grind, kept asking questions, and making my name heard in the right way. I’d stay late watching film, and when I was called on in meetings I’d get it right. Once I’d built that trust with the coaches and my teammates, I got the opportunities – and I took them.”

With a successful debut season in the books, Anderson was ready to take the next step in his fledgling collegiate career. The world had different ideas though, with a global pandemic causing chaos to everyone and everything – and football was no different. Optimism soon turned to struggle as COVID impacted the Bowling Green locker room in unexpected ways:

“I just viewed it as a ‘make it or break it’ situation. I’d earned the chance, and I wasn’t going to let it pass me by. Not many true freshmen make an impact like that. And so I was heading into 2020 optimistic and ready to double down, but then COVID hit. It was just a really bad time – and it affected the team massively. You could tell with everything going on, a lot of guys, they didn’t want to be there. They didn’t want to play football with that in the background, and it created a bad team culture. People were getting kicked off the team, other guys getting in trouble breaking the rules, and the morale and camaraderie took a hit. We were getting beat every game. It wasn’t what I signed up for, but looking back, it was a big part of the journey.”

'Big Players Make Big Plays In Big Games'

A pandemic was not going to stop Jordan Anderson’s destiny – merely delay it. With football getting back to normal in 2021, Anderson doubled down on his strong freshman campaign, registering 57 tackles. Exemplifying his diverse skillset, Anderson was one of just three FBS players in the nation to record three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and five pass breakups. For reference, the other two (Ji’ayir Brown, Ja’Quan McMillan) now ply their trade in the NFL. They say there’s no substitute for hard work – and Anderson exemplified that with his approach to a career-defining year:

“I finished that first season as the highest rated freshman in the whole country, and named an All-American. So I already knew I had something about me. COVID was a down year for sure, and it saw a lot of the experienced veterans on the team leave for various reasons – the transfer portal had just opened, some graduated etc. So when 2021 came round, I had even more opportunity ahead of me. And the coaches, they were telling me that I was the man now, going into my junior year. It was time to step up and put the team on my back. My DB coach, Eric Lewis, he had been promoted to defensive coordinator, and he had a lot of confidence in me being the ‘QB of the defense’. So I knew I had to deliver. I stayed home that Summer, got with a trainer, and religiously just worked on my craft. And when I got back, the difference was obvious.”

Dedication like that, for any young person, is admirable. To do it in a city that has a history of crime that youths often find difficult to avoid falling into makes Anderson’s accomplishments all the more impressive. Detroit has a crime rate of 66 per 1,000 residents – and one in fifteen residents will become a victim of violent or property crime at some point in their lives – statistics that sadly top the nation. Anderson credits family and football for keeping him out of trouble:

“Detroit is a bad place already. The environment is bad, the neighborhood wasn’t the best, but I didn’t let those distractions affect me. All my brothers and sisters were away at college or starting their lives, and I was in the house on my own. But all my family were great in helping me stay focused – reinforcing my priorities and keeping me on the right track. My parents wouldn’t let me just be another Detroit statistic – they raised me better than that. My total focus on my football allowed me not to get involved in those dangers. When we returned after Summer, I led the team in every category in practice. I’d stay behind and do extra work – catch 100 balls on the JUGS machine. I would watch tons of film with Coach Lewis during the week. I was just in a different mindset. And once I got onto the field, all that hard work translated to results. It was all second nature to me.”

Something that also came instinctually to Anderson was making his mark against Power 5 opponents. As a freshman, he introduced himself against Notre Dame with six tackles and a pass breakup. In his junior season, he helped the Falcons stun Minnesota with six tackles, one TFL and an interception. With big games against UCLA and Mississippi State in his final year in Bowling Green, I suggested to Jordan it felt like a point of principle for him that he showed he could compete at that level – and the safety readily agreed:

“Big players make big plays in big games. And I had a real chip on my shoulder being at Bowling Green; I always felt like I should have been at a Power Five school – I should have been at Michigan, Michigan State, or one of the big programs in my backyard that never recruited me or gave me a chance like they should have. So when they came up on the schedule, our coaches would challenge us, ask us what we were going to do to prove we belonged on the same field as them? I didn’t need any more incentive – I was going to show them what they’d missed out on. And I know, people can look at the MAC and say how I dominated against a perceived lower quality of opponent. I think that’s a bit disrespectful to the level of football in the Group of Five, but whatever – they can’t say that about me. Scouts can go put on the big game tape, and they’ll see I stepped it up even more.”

Becoming A Bruin

Jordan Anderson finished his Bowling Green career with another strong showing in the 2022 season. Ultimately he would decide the time was right to embrace a different challenge – but it made it a much easier decision knowing that he’d been a part of a team turnaround at a place that will always hold a special place in his heart:

“My time at Bowling Green was amazing. I definitely appreciated it. It’s my main memory of my college life really, I was there for four years. And they treated me like royalty because I gave everything for them. Me and some of the guys I came in with, we had a mindset of ‘leave something better than you found it’. And Coach Loeffler, he did a good job trying to help us with that – bringing guys who’d won championships or bowl games back to talk to us and things like that. We knew we had to turn the ship around; 2020, through COVID, that was the bottoming out – and before I left, I wanted to make a bowl game, complete the cycle. We saw some changes in 2021 – a big upset win against Minnesota, were competitive in the MAC, and lost a few close games. But in my senior year, the team really honed in, took strides. We maximized what we could, learned how to win by any means. Getting to that bowl game was special – I think I left Bowling Green football better than when I first found it.”

Anderson didn’t take the decision to leave Bowling Green lightly. Unlike a lot of other guys, he actually transferred out in the summer rather than directly after the season, just to make sure it was what he wanted to do. In the end the lure of an exciting opportunity in Los Angeles led him to playing for one of the most iconic college football programs in America:

“Our bowl game was December 26th, so we were already late to that transfer portal window. And I wasn’t making any rash decisions – I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it, and it was a big moment for me. So I waited and transferred a little later. It was about building an NFL resume for me – taking my talents to another level and proving I could do it. And California is a great place – somewhere a lot of people dream about going but never get to. The market there was good, and they brought me a good situation too; they’d lost all of their starting safeties, had an inexperienced secondary. I had 36 games under my belt, and it would be a similar scheme to Bowling Green’s too. The transition would be quick. And obviously the Pac-12 gave you the opportunity to go up against some of the best QB’s in the country too. I wanted to meet that challenge – UCLA was too good to turn down.”

Money, Misfortune & Music

With such big programs interested in his talents, I was keen to understand how Name, Image & Likeness or ‘NIL’ royalties factored into Jordan Anderson’s decision making when choosing UCLA as his next home. Anderson confesses it was a tempting new scenario, but ultimately it was the opportunity to take his game to another level that proved to be the biggest selling point for his next destination:

“NIL is crazy man. One school, they were on about giving me a house! I’m all for athletes getting compensated, and I think in the long run NIL will be great for college football. Players before me went through school and got nothing, and many kids probably missed out on an education without that money. Now, it gives more people more opportunity. It’s new right now, and a crazy space that probably needs some restrictions and limitations – they’ll probably come later down the line. But I’m all for NIL as a concept.”

Football is a game of adversity, and it wouldn’t be a career if everything was smooth sailing. Anderson’s time as a Bruin didn’t see him get the kind of opportunities on the field he envisaged, and his production dwindled as a result. Pragmatic about his final year at college, Jordan was content with his decision and performance when he had the chance, but admits it could have gone better as he looks to carve out a professional football career:

“If I’m honest, I’m not happy with how it panned out at UCLA. It obviously wasn’t how it was supposed to go. I felt like it has hindered my process a little – I know how scouts are; they’ll look at all the production in the MAC then see the stats dropoff in the Pac-12. But I tell you what – I was very thankful for the opportunity to go out there. I made a lot of connections down there that will help with my networking and life down the road. And the times I got on the field, I made plays; two forced fumbles, crucial stops. When my number was called, or when the opportunity was given to me, I did good. I look at it as a lesson – I learned a lot in my year as a Bruin.”

Something else Anderson learned – although a long time before he got to California – was how to play the violin. You’ll be shocked to learn that not a lot of football stars dabble in classical stringed instruments, but with a beaming smile Jordan is evidently proud about his secret musical life: 

“I went to a performing arts school from Kindergarten right through fifth grade, called Winans Academy of Performing Arts. We had music class, orchestra, drama, dance. As a little kid, you’re just going to class – you had to do it! And then, in orchestra, I started thinking ‘this is kinda fun!’ What’s crazy is, I love music – I’m very musically inclined. I honed in on it quickly – and once you know how to read music, I honestly found it quite easy. My hand-eye coordination is good, so I just carried on with it – when I went to middle school I wanted in on the orchestra class again – my teammates thought my teachers were messing with me! They didn’t realize I was actually good at it. I wasn’t embarrassed or nothing, I didn’t care. I just enjoyed it. We’d have recitals and concerts, and I did a few plays at elementary too. So I’ve been doing it a long time. Violin is a big passion of mine – and one of the best instruments for sure. I’m a little rusty, but I might do a little practice in case of any rookie hazing when I get to the NFL!”

Pro Day Preparations

Sooner rather than later, Jordan Anderson intends to pack his bags and his violin case and head somewhere to begin an NFL career. Back home in Detroit, he’s training with Nate Collins at N8 Sports Performance Training – the very same trainer who he worked with in the offseason before his breakout year at Bowling Green. He’s banking on that established, successful partnership to help him get ready for his pro day which will be back at Bowling Green on March 19th. When scouts descend on Northern Ohio, Anderson knows exactly what he’s going to put on show:

“The biggest thing is speed. It always is. Once I run that good forty, that will be all the checkboxes ticked. From the scouting reports I’ve seen, they know I’m quick. But how quick? Am I really fast? Well, yeah, I am – and the forty time is gonna show them that. I’m setting a high bar in that test for sure. The work I’m doing with Nate, the rate I’m going, it’s very possible I’m going to hit my high expectations. That should answer any questions. But I’m also excited to get into some position drills, show my fluidity and get in and out of breaks like I can. They’re going to see a guy who can move – and do it from different positions too.”

Anderson has already had an opportunity to showcase his talents to NFL scouts after attending the Tropical Bowl in Orlando last month. It was an experience he appreciated – and he made the most of it:

“It probably wasn’t as organized as maybe the Senior Bowl or Shrine Bowl, but I definitely put my best foot forward down there. I took that leader role that I always had, and I just applied it there; I was first in the line, first in the reps, leading the drills. I put myself out there to be judged, and the second day of practice I really made a statement. I was locking it down on the one on ones, was all over the field in the seven on sevens. I was the only DB on my team to make a pick during those practice sessions, and I definitely caught the attention of some scouts. I got the chance to speak to five different teams, which I appreciated.”

Forthcoming and easy to talk to, Anderson cuts a humble but confident man – someone who knows what he can do, and assured that it is more than good enough for the NFL. We discuss some schemes or teams that would be a good fit  – and alluding to his diverse skillset, he has a few ideal landing spots in mind:

“I’ve played a bunch of nickel. In the middle of my junior year, our starting nickel got hurt and I stepped in, and it happened again in my senior year too. That has really helped me out with my versatility – I can play free safety, strong safety, nickel. And in modern NFL defenses, those roles are pretty fluid. They’re all interconnected. You watch the Ravens, the Buccs, the Chiefs play, it’s very interchangeable. I feel like I thrive in schemes like that. Look at Trent McDuffie doing it all for the Chiefs in the Super Bowl – he did a lot of the same thing at college for Washington. I have a similar history, and I think that helps me in this process. Obviously I love that Lions defense right now being a Detroit native! That’s got me excited for sure. They could do with some help on the back end, so hopefully they make me a hometown hero.”

Draft Plans

After forty-one minutes, Jordan Anderson has completely convinced me that he will be a success at the next level. To be fair, I have also had the benefit of watching his tape, which stands on its own merits. A perfect blend of blue collar physicality and elite athleticism has created a dangerous playmaker – and it’s a skillset Anderson is ready to take to wherever wants him. If that’s a short walk to Ford Field, then so be it:

“I’ve always been a guy who’s happy to go anywhere. I’ve been in the MidWest most of my life – and I’d be excited to experience other cities and different cultures. And, despite being a longtime Lions fan, I actually used to joke that I didn’t want them to pick me! They had been bad for a while, and you know I’m all about winning. But man, I will go wherever I can make a difference. I like physical defenses too like the Steelers – that’s always been a hallmark of my game. The Lions definitely have that grit now too – and after that playoff run; I wouldn’t be mad at all if Detroit gave me that call!”

In what could be seen as fate, Detroit actually hosts this year’s NFL Draft at the end of April. Whilst Anderson doesn’t envision himself walking across the stage and collecting a jersey from Roger Goodell on day one, he would still love to experience the event as part of his own draft celebrations:

“I’ve not made any plans for the weekend as yet. I think, once pro day is done and my agent gets a feel from teams on which kind of area I’m going to come off the board, we can figure something out. But it’s always been a dream of mine to go to the draft – and it’s in my hometown this year! So going downtown and incorporating some of that into the weekend if I can would be amazing. But really, it’s going to be something with my family and close friends, just to be able to celebrate the day whenever the time comes. Whether it’s at home or maybe a little hall or something, as long as I have those around me is what matters.”

Focused, determined, and hell bent on making it no matter what it takes, I leave our conversation with more admiration of Jordan Anderson than maybe any other draft prospect I’ve interviewed. I feel almost privileged to have him share his story with me – a story he knows is far from ending. And yet, the moment will not be lost on him should he get a phone call from an NFL franchise come draft weekend:

“Honestly? It would mean the world. It might be kind of hard for people not in the process to understand, but most of us, we’ve been working our whole life towards this moment. Getting drafted, in my home city? That would be a dream come true. Me and my family, we’ve worked so hard towards this, sacrificed so much. Summers, trips, having fun like kids do – a whole plethora of things you don’t realize, that most get to experience. Every ounce of me went into football, to allow me to stick to the basics and remember the dream – get to the NFL. The people around me, they know that, seen the growth and the progress. I’ve always been about that business – so hearing my name called, it will make all that work worthwhile. It will be the biggest accomplishment of my life to this date.”

Mock Draft





A huge thank you to Jordan for taking the time to talk to us. Everyone at The Touchdown wishes him well in his future career.