Credit: Lexie Perez/Hustler Multimedia

2023 NFL Draft Profile: Anfernee Orji

Vanderbilt’s leading tackler takes his talents to the NFL.

For Anfernee Orji, being overlooked is nothing new. When he first arrived at Vanderbilt, he was viewed as the weaker prospect compared to his twin brother Alston, a 4-star recruit. Orji played sparsely at safety as a freshman in 2019, before switching to a new position at linebacker in 2020. He broke out in his new position, leading the Commodores in tackles as just a sophomore. Still, Orji’s efforts were overshadowed by the team’s 0-9 record and the ugly conclusion of the Derek Mason era. In his junior season, Orji took over as the face of the defense, leading the Commodores in tackles and tackles for loss. 

After an impressive senior season and outstanding performance at the NFL combine, Orji is still being overlooked compared to some of the other linebackers in the 2023 NFL draft. As the team’s leading tackler and a defensive captain in 2022, Orji played a pivotal role in Vanderbilt’s surprising five win season. On Thursday, Orji will hope to surpass expectations once again and become the first Vanderbilt player drafted since Dayo Odeyingbo in 2021.

Numbers and Measurements

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 230 lbs.

40-Yard Dash: 4.53 seconds

Vertical: 38.5 inches (1st among linebackers)

Orji posted one of the strongest performances of any linebacker at the 2023 NFL combine. He fits the ideal frame for the increasingly coveted prototype of an off-ball linebacker who can match up with wide receivers and tight ends. His 40-yard dash time of 4.53 seconds (tied for 6th amongst linebackers) impressed, but it was his astronomical vertical of 38.5 inches that stole the show. That’s a higher vertical than Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade posted at their respective NBA combines. More importantly, on the gridiron,it highlights his ability to fight for jump balls and bat down passes at the line of scrimmage.

Orji also performed well in the East-West Shrine Bowl, a postseason all-star game for NFL hopefuls. Orji flashed his improved coverage skills during the practice week, recording a pick-six on Fordham’s Tim DeMorat. During the game itself, Orji contributed 3 tackles and 0.5 sacks against some of the best prospects in the upcoming draft. 


Orji was downright prolific in his final season at Vanderbilt, making his impact felt every time he took the field. As a senior, Orji led the Commodores with 106 tackles including 6.5 TFLs, and also chipped in one interception. He was awarded a second team All-SEC selection after leading the league in tackles per game with nine. Orji boasts exceptional quickness for a linebacker, and uses that speed to chase down ball carriers and rack up tackles. He plays with extreme intensity and aggression, consistently finding the ball and accelerating to make the stop. 

NFL scouts will be most drawn to Orji’s athleticism and versatility. His excellent performance at the combine is reflected in the athleticism and fluidity he displays on the field. His speed allows him to be a force in the run game and also pose a threat as a situational pass-rusher. He shows great anticipation on blitzes and uses timing to disrupt plays in the backfield. Additionally, his vertical ability and quickness project well for his ability to improve in coverage. 

After starting his college career at safety, Orji possesses skills in zone coverage as well. He knows how to read the quarterback’s body language and jump routes to eliminate checkdown options in the passing game. The intensity and leadership that Orji brings to a locker room should further boost his appeal to NFL coaches, and should separate him from other late round linebackers as someone unafraid to compete for a job. 

Overall, Orji’s quickness while tracking ball carriers and strength as a tackler ensure that his floor can be an effective special teams player in the NFL. In order to reach his ceiling, he’ll have to address the following concerns surrounding his ability.

Areas for Improvement

Orji was a very good tackler at the collegiate level. But every linebacker in the NFL was a good tackler in college — keeping up with the likes of Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffery in the pros blazing out of the backfield requires perfection, however. While Orji was reliable at stopping defenders at Vanderbilt, there is still room for improvement in eliminating missed tackles from his game. 

He excels at using his explosive strength to beat lineman on the pass rush, but has been liable to get pushed back by blockers in the run game. If he can put on some weight without losing his quickness, Orji will be better equipped to face off against second-level blockers and make plays in the run game. Another concern will be in his ability to adapt to covering NFL-caliber wide receivers and tight ends. Orji was a respectable defender in zone coverage throughout college, but was only average when matching up with playmakers in man-to-man situations. To earn third down opportunities in the NFL, Orji will need to demonstrate he can keep up with individual matchups, especially with the league’s growing usage of running backs in the passing game

Orji isn’t a household name and doesn’t stand out for a “signature” strength. This may make it challenging for him to become an early-round pick. While he is perceived as well-rounded, Orji isn’t the most athletic, or best tackler, or the best in coverage of the linebacker prospects this year. As a result, he probably won’t be one of the first linebackers drafted, and will likely have to wait until day two or three to hear his name called. Fortunately, there are countless players every year who emerge from the later rounds to be key contributors for their teams. 

NFL Comparison

Patrick Queen, Baltimore Ravens

Orji does not have the same pedigree or buzz that fellow all-SEC linebacker Patrick Queen had entering the NFL. Before being selected in the first round of the 2020 draft, Queen built some hype by earning defensive MVP of the 2020 national championship for LSU. However, the two put up similar numbers in their final years in the SEC, and Orji actually posted more tackles in three less games. What really spurs this comparison is the similarity as hyperathletic off-ball linebackers who thrive as run-stoppers, but can also generate stops in the passing game. 

Queen posted his best NFL season this past year with the Ravens, leading the team in tackles (79) while also chipping in five sacks and two interceptions. In a best-case scenario, Orji is capable of matching that production thanks to his do-it-all skill set. Orji was underutilized as a pass-rusher for the Commodores, and should thrive on blitz packages while playing alongside a more competent defense. 

Draft Prediction

Pick 172 (Round 5), New York Giants

The Giants are weak at linebacker and are stacked with 10 picks in the 2023 NFL draft. New York will likely address that position in the first few rounds, but if Orji is still on the board when their seventh selection rolls around in Round 5, they’d be wise to double-dip. While the Giants did just sign inside Bobby Okerke after a monster season with the Colts, they still lack depth and could benefit from Orji’s versatility and immediate special teams potential. His intensity and discipline should further avail him to head coach Brian Daboll, and his pass rush ability fits well in defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s pressure-heavy scheme.

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About the Contributor
Brandon Karp
Brandon Karp, Senior Staff Writer
Brandon Karp ('25) is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is studying human and organizational development and political science in Peabody College. You can reach him at [email protected].
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