Saban: Top NFL prospects playing bowl because they’re ‘great competitors’

If quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. never played in another college game again after November’s Iron Bowl, they would already go down as two of the greatest to have played for Alabama football.

Young won the Heisman Trophy in 2021, something no quarterback had ever done for the Crimson Tide. Meanwhile, Anderson is the only Crimson Tide player ever to be a two-time unanimous All-American. That’s the simplest and quickest way to describe their excellence over three years at Alabama, but plenty more accolades and intangibles could be listed for the two-time permanent captains.

Those efforts have made them each top NFL draft prospects. ESPN has them as the top two players right now for 2023.

It would have made sense for them to opt out of the Sugar Bowl. There’s not much more for Anderson and Young to do to boost their draft stocks. Plus, there’s nothing but pride for which to play when Alabama (10-2) faces Kansas State (10-3) on Dec. 31 (noon ET, ESPN). Nick Saban has even said he would understand players making a business decision if the risk was higher than the reward. 

There’s really no benefit to Young and Anderson playing in the bowl game other than having a chance to win one last game with their teammates.

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Well, that’s what they chose. They were out working with their teammates when bowl practices began Friday.

Add another chapter to the legend of Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr.

“These two guys are great competitors,” Saban said. “That’s why they wanted to play. They want to try to continue to create value for themselves, be good teammates and help their teammates play well in the game. That makes them old fashioned in a lot of ways, but I sort of respect that.”

Saban said he told both it was their choice as to what they wanted to do. He also discussed the pros and cons with them.

Alabama has also insured Young and Anderson “the best we can,” Saban said, to minimize the potential harm of an injury happening in the game.

“As much as you can taking the risk out of it for them,” Saban said.

Depending on the scope of the injury insurance, there’s still some risk involved. Injury insurance could result in compensation, but it can’t make an NFL team draft Young or Anderson in the top 15 if the worst happened and they sustained serious injuries against Kansas State. They deserve to be early first-round draft picks. Heck, one of them could be the first No. 1 overall pick from Saban’s Alabama dynasty. Talk about an accolade.

They’re risking that potential achievement by playing in this game, but they’re playing anyway.

“It sets a great example for guys that respect their teammates and want to be part of their team,” Saban said.

It also adds to the legend that fans will tell years from now about Young’s and Anderson’s remarkable careers.

Most players probably would opt out if they were in Anderson’s and Young’s spot. Most would probably realize there’s not much more they can do to boost their draft stock, and most would likely decide to sit this one out.

Young and Anderson aren’t most players.

Nick Kelly covers Alabama football and men’s basketball for The Tuscaloosa News/USA TODAY Network. Reach him via email: nkelly@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly.

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