How Alabama football might have used Drew Sanders if he hadn't joined Arkansas

Alabama football knows Arkansas' new elite defender well. Linebacker Drew Sanders was on the Crimson Tide's roster a year ago.

He decided to transfer this past offseason, though. Alabama had a crowded group of outside linebackers with Will Anderson Jr., Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell, among talented freshman being added to the mix.

Had Sanders stayed, however, he might have been a starter anyway at a different spot. He has played a significant amount of inside linebacker at Arkansas.

"That was probably what we were going to do," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. "It never worked out. It is what it is. It's good for him that he can play both positions and that he's doing well."

Quite well actually. Sanders leads the nation in sacks after four games with 5.5. Anderson is right behind him with 4.5 sacks. And now No. 2 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) will face Sanders and No. 19 Arkansas (3-1, 1-1) on Saturday (2:30 p.m., CBS) in Fayetteville.

"He plays really physical, and he’s got a nose for the football, so he really like to go for the ball," Alabama offensive lineman JC Latham said. "It’ll be a great matchup.”

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After Christian Harris declared early for the NFL Draft, it left an opening next to Henry To'oTo'o at inside linebacker. Jaylen Moody has been the primary starter there, and Deontae Lawson has received some snaps there as well. Moody initially entered the transfer portal, too, but he decided to return.

Sanders looked primed for a starting role for Alabama in 2021 after Christopher Allen was lost for the season with an injury in the season opener. Sanders became the starter the next week against Mercer. That lasted until the Ole Miss game when Sanders suffered an injury of his own. That opened the door for the freshman Turner to start and he ran with the opportunity. He tallied 8.5 sacks, 30 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. Those efforts earned Turner a spot on the All-SEC freshman team. He has been starting this season, too.

Once Sanders was healthy and returned against LSU later in the season, he served in a reserve role. He finished 2021 with 24 tackles, two pass breakups and a sack. As a freshman in 2020, Sanders tallied nine tackles.

This season, he is already off to his best start yet. Sanders has 31 tackles, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles to go with his nation-leading 5.5 sacks.

"Drew was a good player when he was here," Saban said. "Unfortunate injuries. He’s certainly playing well for them. It’s good to see he’s doing a good job. We’re happy for him and his family."

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: How Alabama football might have used Drew Sanders if he hadn't joined Arkansas