Preston Hadley seemed like the perfect person to ask.
This spring, Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach signed only a handful of rookie free agents. For a loaded roster, it’s tough to find room, and there’s no use bringing in a typical haul of a dozen or more players if there’s no real chance to earn a roster spot. However, one player who did earn a closer look is Brigham Young safety Zayne Anderson.
Back to Coach Hadley for a second. Not only has Hadley served as Anderson’s coach in the secondary since 2018 for the Cougars, but Hadley was also college teammates—again at BYU—with the player to whom Anderson is compared most: Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen. Both players were BYU products. Both entered the NFL as undrafted players. Both profile similarly as exceptionally hard-hitting safeties known for their intelligence and toughness. Then again, Hadley is quick to differentiate the players despite the similarities.
“I know a lot of BYU fans like to draw comparisons between Danny and Zayne, but don’t draw comparisons to Dirty Dan, man,” said Preston in a recent interview with Arrowhead Addict. “He’s in a league of his own.”I can’t speak of what Danny has done in the NFL, but as far as being his teammate, they’re two different personalities for sure, but I think they have a similar skill set, similar measurables. I think their intangibles are different, but it will be fun.”
We spoke with BYU coach Preston Hadley about new Chiefs safety Zayne Anderson.
Hadley laughs when asked about the potential of both BYU alumni fighting for the same potential job. Given that both players are known for being so competitive and tenacious, it’s going to be an intriguing preseason for all players involved.
“It’s a man’s game,” said Hadley. “Knowing Danny, I know he’s not going to let that happen. I’m hoping they can end up being teammates, y’know? But also knowing Zayne, those are two competitive guys. I’m hoping Zayne can link up with Danny during his time there, because Danny’s been really good about coming back to BYU and having relationships with our current players. I know Zayne’s already looked up to him quite a bit, especially with everyone telling him how comparable they are skill set-wise. But Danny’s a killer, man. I think Zayne can get there but Danny has 8 or 9 years experience.”
While it’s tough for any pro prospect to make the leap from the college ranks, Hadley says Anderson has a couple key assets working in hi favor. Beyond the clear physical gifts he possesses and a great frame at 6’2, 210 lbs., Anderson also comes with a maturity and work ethic rarely seen even in players ready to make the jump to the NFL.
For the latter, Anderson is the very rare prospect who has had three senior seasons—yes, three. Due to a shoulder injury that prematurely ended his 2018 and 2019 season, Anderson kept returning again and again in order to finish well. That injury history will be a concern for teams and likely downgraded him on some draft boards, but Hadley said it also shaped Anderson to be the man that he is today.
“Your mindset going into your senior year—maintaining that is a different thing. He had to do that three times,” said Hadley. “I think that takes a certain level of discipline to come back and play at a high level after the injuries. Every player has adversity and his is very unique to have to mentally prepare to be a senior three times.
“He’s older, but it’s not like he didn’t play in multiple games in each of those years. So he’s actually got a lot of game experience at multiple positions. I think it can help give him an edge over who he’s going to be competing against. He’s still gotta go out and play well, but I think it definitely gives him an advantage. We have a saying, ‘Adversity prepares you for greatness.’ He’s definitely faced that, had some letdowns of things outside his control, but I think it will pay dividends during his pursuit of a career in the NFL.”
When it comes to the injury concerns, Hadley stated that this last season proved he was healthy and ready to play again, as Anderson played in 11 games for the Cougars and racked up 41 tackles. He also returned to safety after a couple years as a hybrid player at linebacker, giving him some real versatility for the Chiefs going forward.
“I think he proved this year he can be durable. He’s a versatile player. After his sophomore year, he actually started at a hybrid linebacker/safety position. In our language, we call it a linebacker, but in general it’s somewhere in between. He played that position for us and that’s where Fred Warner played. It’s a bit more physical position than what he’d been playing at free safety.
“When he was right, he played at a high level and was a great tackler. But he had a shoulder injury and then came back the next year as a linebacker again, and I don’t know all the details, but he re-injured it. When he moved back to safety, our athletic trainers put him on a slow track in recovery and rehab. Then this year, he held up. He didn’t cringe. He wasn’t shy on contact or anything. You wouldn’t have known. I might sound biased as his coach, but he maintained his physical level of play. He’s so physical, which is why he had so much wear-and-tear on his shoulder. I think he’ll hold up.”
As for the work ethic, Hadley describes Anderson with a keen ability to “lock in.” His determination will take an area of weakness and hone that skill until it’s no longer a concern for him on the field.
“When you identify an area he needs to improve on, he can go all in and get tunnel vision about that skill,” said Hadley. “For example, I gave him some feedback at the end of spring last year that his ball skills weren’t where they needed to be. I wasn’t out there with him during the offseason but he came into fall camp and it was noticeable that it was an area of focus he’d been working on.
“He has a great combination of focus and energy that he can use to lock in on a specific skill. From my experience, there’s been multiple times where you give him feedback saying, ‘This ain’t right’ and he comes right back and it’s noticeably better. I think that takes a high level of intrinsic motivation and says a lot about him as a player.”
While all these intangibles are great, they mean nothing if Anderson can’t keep up with the elite athletes he’ll be competing with in offseason training activities and the NFL preseason. Fortunately he showed up strong at his pro day, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds. He also had an impressive 4.22 time in the short shuttle.
It’s still going to be an uphill battle for Anderson as an undrafted rookie trying to turn the heads of a coaching staff of a Super Bowl contender. The Chiefs have gone to the biggest game in the sport in each of the last two seasons with their eyes very much on a third consecutive trip. The safety position already has Tyrann Mathieu, Juan Thornhill and Sorensen as their big three along with Armani Watts, new free agent signing Will Parks, Chris Lammons and fellow rookie free agent Devon Key. Hadley has been honest with Anderson about the realities of the fight ahead and he didn’t mince words.
“I said, ‘This is a business, man.’ Everyone there is a pro.’ We talked about the mindset he needed to have going in, because he’s going to steal someone’s job. There are only so many spots, which means potentially taking food off of someone’s dinner table. So he has to have a different type of focus than he’s ever had. I think he’s good for it.”