In the days leading up to this year’s NFL Draft, the sports website Bleacher Report ran a list of the biggest draft busts in the history of each franchise.
For the Atlanta Falcons, the choice was Jamaal Anderson, a defensive end out of Arkansas who was selected eighth overall in 2007 and recorded a mere 4.5 sacks in four seasons before the team released him.
“I didn’t put up the numbers that I was projected to, and because of those production numbers I was let go,” Anderson said Monday, three days before he gets to face his former team as the starting left defensive end for the Cincinnati Bengals because of injuries to Robert Geathers and Carlos Dunlap.,
“It is ironic,” Anderson added. “But I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
After signing with Indianapolis in 2011 and making just one start, Anderson agreed to a free-agent contract with the Bengals in March. The move reunited him with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who held the same position with the Falcons when they drafted him.
“Jamaal got picked so high in the draft that didn’t he live up to expectations,” Zimmer said. “When you get picked that high, you better be a pass rusher. He’s a good left end, a first- and second-down player. And when you move him inside in the nickel, he can do some things.”
The previous working relationship with Zimmer was a big reason why the Bengals offered Anderson a contract.
“It’s like if you could take a kid that you coached in college and draft him into the NFL,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “He doesn’t have to learn anything new, so the learning curve is eliminated and now you’re just talking about physical stuff.
“It’s great for an NFL guy to apply himself and use his athleticism so he’s not slowed at all because he’s unsure about what to do or how to do it.”
Lewis and Zimmer also said Anderson’s character was a big reason for adding him to the roster.
A sociology major and academic honor roll student at Arkansas, Anderson is fluent in sign language and always eager to help the deaf community. He showed that in April when he was in town for Bengals minicamp. While staying at the Westin Hotel, his wife noticed there was a large contingent of deaf people across the street at Fountain Square and pointed it out to Jamaal, who went down and started mingling with the American Sign Language group that was staging an event known as a Silent Take Over.
“I just went around and tried to interact with as many people as I could,” said Anderson, whose father, Glenn, was rendered deaf in the 1950s when he was struck with a case of pneumonia at the age of 9.
“I was born into it, just from small stuff and being around the deaf community at college,” Anderson said. “Whatever I didn’t know, he would just show me.”
Glenn Anderson is a professor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and a former board of trustees president at Gallaudet University, a federally chartered institution for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing located in Washington D.C.
Jamaal worked with the Indiana School for the Deaf during his one season with the Colts, and he has reached out to do the same at St. Rita’s School for the Deaf in Cincinnati.
But for now, the most important sign for him to convey is the one that says he is returning to Atlanta a better player than when he left.
“I’ve definitely become more studious,” he said. “That was one of the things I probably learned between my second and fourth year in Atlanta, was definitely getting in, watching a lot of video, understanding not only my position in the scheme but overall what the concept was and why I was doing that for a particular reason.
“It feels good to go back and play where you started, but I’m not going to get over-hyped about this game,” he continued. “Unfortunately it didn’t work out for me there. I can’t look at the past. All I can do is continue to look forward.”
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