Meet Troy Andersen, the draft's most fascinating linebacker
He grew up taking care of cattle, played just about everything at Montana State and pulled a 4.42 in Indy. There's no one quite like Andersen in this draft.
The most versatile player in college football grew up with 800 head of cattle. Troy Andersen is a man straight from a ranch in Montana.
He graduated with more kids than you’d expect — 80! — but life in Beaverhead County was different than most all prospects in this 2022 NFL Draft.
Each summer, he’d wake up in the AM to cut hay, bale hay ‘n rake hay with his older sister and two parents. The Andersen family raised beef cattle which means feeding them all the time. And when so many lives are depending on you, the work never really ends. He notes that it’s 5 degrees in Bozeman at the time of this conversation… and snowing… and windy… so when mother cows are having calves, keeping the baby animals alive becomes Priority No. 1. As he puts, “that’s your livelihood.” When the little ones get sick, they’d play doctor and keep them warm.
Very early, Andersen and his sister learned not to get too close to these cows, too. There was always a chance wolves and bears could bust into the ranch and kill them at their old summer spot in the mountains. Then, there was 4H as an 11- and 12-year-old. He’d take care of steers, gain an emotional attachment and then take them to the county fair to sell off knowing this cow’s fate full well.
“It was tough,” Andersen says. “You’re a little bummed and then someone hands you a check and that makes it a little bit better. It was a little sad for a few days.”
Granted, his own diet has been steak-based for years. Whereas college buddies settled on frozen pizzas at Montana State, Andersen has always feasted on all the red meat he could desire.
Perhaps, that is the secret.
Andersen is one of the most fascinating prospects in the entire draft.
At 6 foot 3 ½, 243 pounds, he ran a 4.42 in the 40 at the NFL Combine. And at Montana State, he did it all. As a freshman, in ’17, he played running back with one game at linebacker. The next year, ’18, he won a quarterback competition and earned first-team All-Big Sky Conference honors. Andersen was a battering ram of a QB, too, with 206 carries for 1,412 yards with 21 touchdowns. He threw for 1,195 yards with three scores and seven picks. In ’19, he was a first-team all-conference starter at outside linebacker — with 54 tackles (11.5 for loss), 6.5 sacks in 11 starts — while also carrying the ball 49 times for 336 yards with seven touchdowns as a running back. In three of those starts, Andersen played with the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense.
After Covid kiboshed Montana State’s 2020 season, Andersen moved to inside linebacker and was the Big Sky defensive player of the year in 2021. His 147 tackles (14 for loss) were the second-most in FCS.
Montana State reached the national title, too.
Get all that?
To Andersen, it was never too complicated. He wanted to do whatever would help Montana State win. He grew up cheering for the Bobcats and believes he fit perfectly with the program’s “blue collar” mentality, the belief that “no one’s going to outwork us.” He was recruited to play linebacker but — upon stepping on campus — the goal was to play anywhere. So, when a kid on the team got into trouble and coaches asked Andersen if he’d start at running back the first four games, he didn’t hesitate.
The next year, a quarterback was academically ineligible so Andersen jumped into a competition with Travis Jonsen and Tucker Rovig.
Jonsen was even a four-star recruit who had transferred in from Oregon.
Andersen beat both out even if, he admits, it would’ve been nice for someone else to win so he stick with linebacker. He broke his hand in the first game of the season, had surgery the next day, played running back and linebacker for a couple games with a giant club on his hand and took the QB reins. With a chuckle, he assures he wasn’t exactly a dynamic passer. Montana State was full “ground and pound” with Anderson bludgeoning defensive fronts on QB Power and zone-read plays.
He’d run the option, pull the ball, and run fools over. Occasionally, Andersen did hit a receiver deep off play-action.
Playing quarterback turned out to be pretty damn fun. Andersen loved having a direct impact on the game every single play.
“I think I am a competitor,” Andersen says. “I was willing to do whatever the coaches asked. I’m all about winning. If they want me to play running back? Great if it can help the team win. If they want me to play quarterback? Same thing. I try to do whatever I can to help the team and be selfless and not think about yourself that much. It’s that mentality. I care about the people I’m around, and if this is what they want me to do, I’m more than happy to do it.”
This all helped him as a linebacker, too. Andersen learned how to watch film and started seeing the field through a new lens. His “spatial awareness” at linebacker, in large part, comes from the experience at quarterback. If two blockers cross his face, he knew where the third was coming from. If the defense is in Cover 3, he knew where the opposing QB would attack.
“Where’s the weaknesses in our two-high stuff? What are we going to give up and what are we trying to take away? Thinking of it as a quarterback, how they’d take advantage of us, helps when you’re playing defense.”
Not to mention, running the football is more complex than ever in the pros. It may seem elementary to the untrained eye but teams such as the San Francisco 49ers, under Kyle Shanahan, are running Calculus-level schemes with incredibly creative blocking schemes that create mismatches in the chaos. Without question, that heightens the need for a smart linebacker to sort through the muck.
As Andersen notes, NFL teams know how to create leverage and hit an unsuspecting linebacker for 15 yards.
Reacting in that split-second is crucial.
“You have to be so disciplined on the defensive side with your eyes and your fits and knowing where everybody is,” he adds. “If you don’t understand that, you can get gashed pretty easily.”
That being said, the physicality is what Andersen cherishes most about playing linebacker. They didn’t have tackle football in his town until 7th grade so he’d tend to get into trouble during flag leagues. Bigger and faster than the others, if he missed the flag, Andersen would ragdoll a kid to the grass.
That’s exactly what everyone saw at Montana State, too.
A large, large man who was a menace on both sides of the ball:
Andersen has always loved defense more than offense. Mainly because it’s more “read and react” and “less rigid.”
“You call a play on offense,” he says, “and maybe if they’re in two-high you run this or one-high you run this. It’s like two options. On the defensive side, when you call a play, so many different things can happen and I kind of like that flow of it. That mentality. The defense mentality is different. It’s hardnosed. A ‘come at us’-type of thing.”
No wonder there’s nothing Andersen enjoyed more than blitzing right through the middle of the line as an inside linebacker to tee off on the other team’s quarterback.
“Get hits on him. Make them uncomfortable. Get them thinking about a little bit about you. If they’re thinking about somebody who’s coming at them, instead of what the coverage is and where they should go with the ball, that’s always a good thing.
“Any time you get a good hit on one of those guys from Missoula, the University of Montana, that’s something special.”
The sport is gradually softening but Andersen is positive he can “still put a good lick on somebody and make him feel it the next day.” Still, it’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers vet Lavonte David he admires most. David is no sack artist, rather he has accumulated an astounding 1,222 tackles over a 10-year career by covering more space than just about any linebacker in the sport. Sideline-to-sideline, he often does the work of two or three players at once.
Watching David, it’s clear to Andersen that he lives in the film room. David knows what play’s coming.
“He knows it’s a screen before it’s a screen,” Andersen says. “You can tell he recognizes some sort of formation or a tell he picked up off of film. And he blows it up. His range side to side is unbelievable.”
That 4.42 suggests Andersen could be a similar force. He was not exactly facing SEC speed for four seasons during college — it’s hard to gauge how FCS players will project. But don’t be surprised if Andersen slips into the first round. He may be unrefined but a mastermind of a coach likely cannot wait to work with such rare size and speed. There simply aren’t inside linebackers anywhere this big, this fast. Strong showings at the Senior Bowl and Combine assured Andersen would be nobody’s secret. He ran track in high school, competing in the hurdles initially before winning state titles in the 100 and 200. (He dabbled in shot put on the side, too.)
Maybe that’s where the speed comes from, he wonders.
Either way, Andersen knows that the 4.42 applies to his game. Once you know that screen pass is coming, you need the explosiveness to close the gap.
Wherever he lands in the pros, bank on Troy Andersen scoping out the local river-and-stream scene. When he wasn’t throwing and running and tackling on a football field, fly fishing was his favorite pastime in Montana. A heck of a lot more difficult than regular angling, he’s always preferred this. The longer fly rod. All that string. All that strategy with a tiny little fly in a stream. Trout that are insanely tough to fool. It all makes this form of fishing that much more rewarding.
Reeling in a minuscule bluegill can feel like a 20-inch bass.
After workouts in college, he’d rally a group of buddies together and hit the water. All of this, Andersen adds, “stimulates the mind.”
“You have to be able to read the water,” he says. “The fly, if it’s a dry fly and it’s floating right, if the fish is going to actually look at it like it’s real fly. Or is it dragging in the water? Being able to place it perfectly. It’s not just, ‘Alright, send it out there and reel it in.’ It’s a little more challenging and more rewarding when you do catch a fish because you probably don’t catch them as often.
“And then you have everything perfect and you have the wrong fly. And the fish won’t eat it.”
He’s still looking for a trophy catch but has caught some 25-inch trout.
Ranch life is going well for his family, too. He appreciates his parents for instilling a different work ethic in him.
“A great lifestyle,” Andersen says, “It’s what my parents still do and it’s what eventually one day maybe I’ll do.”
Until then, he’ll patrol the middle of an NFL defense… and maybe even slide over to the offensive side of the ball if needed.
Miss Part 1 of Bob McGinn’s nine-part NFL Draft Series? Read what the scouts think about this year’s wide receiver and tight end class right here: