When Dan Campbell was trying to set the foundation for the Detroit Lions, the signing of linebacker Alex Anzalone was a small piece that took on importance the coach has openly conveyed. Anzalone followed Campbell to Detroit from the New Orleans Saints in 2021 free agency, and he was re-signed to another one-year deal in 2022.
But his performance didn't back up the faith that was shown in Anzalone. He missed a lot of tackles, and was often late to the scene when he did secure tackles. All of it was highlighted by his unmissable look-long blond hair coming out from under his helmet.
Anzalone took a step with a career-high 125 tackles and seven tackles for loss last year. His overall Pro Football Focus grade improved greatly over 2021, but it was merely to average/passable after being awful the previous year.
Anzalone felt ripe to be replaced last offseason, especially as he made it clear he wanted a multi-year deal. But instead the Lions signed him to a three-year, $18.75 million deal, which really amounts to a firm two-year commitment upon further review. The deal certainly turned some heads, but the Lions backed up how much they value Anzalone by bringing him back on a multi-year deal.
Alex Anzalone is rewarding faith Lions had and have in him
On Sunday against the Chicago Bears, Anzalone had a career-high 15 tackles with a fumble recovery. Pro Football Focus gave him a 90.3 overall grade for the game, as he allowed three catches for 17 yards on five targets in his coverage and missed just one tackle.
On one particular pass play, when he denied Khalil Herbert on a third down, Anzalone said he offered some trash talk to the Bears' running back (h/t to 97.1 The Ticket).
"Little competitive juice in there, like, 'Don’t try me with that route,'" Anzalone said with a grin after the Lions' comeback win over the Bears.
Anzalone is a top-20 linebacker this season by PFF grade, Since Week 4, he's a top-10 graded linebacker by PFF. Entering Week 11, he was PFF's top-graded linebacker in single coverage.
Anzalone has also been very good as a pass rusher this season, with career-highs in sacks (three) and quarterback hits already. He has shifted to playing weak-side linebacker almost exclusively, and he talked about how it seems to have unleashed him.
"100 percent," he said. "I’m playing Will linebacker the whole game and last year I was going back and forth from Mike to Will in a series, just based off the guys that we had in the rotation. So I’m able to get settled a lot more than just being the guy that can do everything." (I'm) a lot more comfortable playing a little more in space and in coverage, not as much A gap to B gap and striking linemen."
Anzalone has been getting noticed for the right reasons this season, with very flew blips. He mentioned the freedom he feels he's playing with after getting his first multi-year contract, and that freedom is backed by his all-around performance.