Northern Michigan DE Zach Anderson lands with Cleveland Browns after nearly going to Buffalo Bills
MARQUETTE – Northern Michigan University senior defensive lineman Zach Anderson of Sault Ste. Marie got a quick lesson on the business side of the National Football League in just a couple of hours following the conclusion of the 2013 draft.
In the end, however, he got what he wanted all along – a shot to make an NFL roster.
“Coming into it, all I wanted was an opportunity, just an invitation to camp,” Anderson said prior to the draft. “As long as I get an invitation to camp, I won’t be let down. Drafted or not drafted, it doesn’t matter to me.”
Anderson will attend the Cleveland Browns rookie camp on a tryout in two weeks after going undrafted Saturday and originally spurning an offer from the franchise.
Out of picks on Saturday, the Browns contacted Anderson with seven selections remaining in the 2013 NFL Draft to express interest in signing the Wildcats’ 6-foot-2, 270-pound captain and once the Indianapolis Colts selected South Carolina tight end Justice Cunningham as Mr. Irrelevant at 254 overall, negotiations began.
While Anderson’s agent – John Perez of Perez Sports Associates in New Jersey – was working things out with the Browns, though, the Buffalo Bills came along with a more enticing offer that Anderson chose to take.
The Bills ended up retracting their offer, however, when Georgia Tech defensive end Izaan Cross became available. By that time, the Browns had already moved on and signed another undrafted free agent in Anderson’s place.
“I was basically in no-man’s land not knowing where I’m going all of a sudden,” Anderson said.
Anderson awoke Sunday morning to a call from Perez saying Browns’ first-year general manager Michael Lombardi – who also spoke to Anderson the Monday before the draft – had reached out to offer him a rookie tryout, as did the Dallas Cowboys.
Lombardi also emailed Anderson himself overnight and that extra effort won over the Wildcat senior.
“I’m excited,” Anderson said. “I wanted a shot in the NFL no matter how I was going to get it, but to play for a team that actually wants you to play for them, that’s an awesome feeling. I’m ready to work and put everything I have in to it.”
Anderson graduated from Sault Area High School in 2008 after being named an All-Upper Peninsula Dream Team defensive end by the U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscaster Association during his senior year of 2007.
Coming out of Northern as an unknown in NFL circles, Anderson caught the Browns attention during an NFL-sponsored regional combine at the team’s training facility in Berea, Ohio on Feb. 17 that cost him $225.
It proved to be a wise investment.
The Wildcat ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash and was kept after for linebacker drills by the Browns and Chicago Beats. Anderson was then invited to an NFL-sponsored super-regional at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas – this time on the NFL’s dime.
Anderson, who graduated in December with a degree in criminal justice after a four-year career at NMU, played defensive tackle for the Wildcats as a senior and finished with 40 of his 71 tackles being solos, plus 10 resulting in negative yardage. He also had one sack and one interception to land on the All-GLIAC first team and NCAA Division II All-Super Region Four third team.
On Dec. 9, Anderson appeared in the National Bowl in Lehigh Valley, Pa., finishing with three sacks as a defensive end.
“I’m versatile. I can adapt,” said Anderson, who also played on the Wildcats punt unit before suffering an ankle injury late in the season.
“I’m very adaptive. I will play whatever position. I can do it all.”
The Browns finished with only five picks after trading their fourth- and fifth-round picks in 2013 for third and fourth-round picks in 2014.
Cleveland took LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo in the first round with the sixth overall pick, followed by San Diego State cornerback Leon McFadden in the third round, Notre Dame strong safety Jamoris Slaughter in the sixth round and East Central (Okla.) defensive end Armonth Bryant and Chadron State (Neb.) offensive tackle Garrett Gilkey in the seventh round.
Cleveland is coming off a last-place finish in the AFC North Division after going 5-11 in 2012, resulting in the ousting of team president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert and head coach Pat Shurmur.
Rob Chudzinski was hired as the new head coach on Jan. 10 while Lombardi joining the organization on Jan. 18.
According to NFL.com, the Browns entered the draft with a need for pass rushers, even after adding free agent outside linebackers Paul Kruger from the Baltimore Ravens and Quentin Groves from the Arizona Cardinals.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens