Typically, second-round NFL Draft picks are expected to be instant contributors in their rookie season.
A quarterback turned running back turned linebacker at Montana State, Andersen enjoyed a decorated college career that ended with FCS Defensive Player of the Year honors.
And yet, the 6-3, 243-pound Andersen, who ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, arrived in Atlanta without the expectation of being an impact player in year one, despite being selected with the No. 58 overall pick.
Andersen was always viewed as a long-term option, entering the draft cycle as one of the most rapidly ascending prospects in the class. With his undeniable athletic traits, Andersen's ceiling is large - but so is his learning curve, as Falcons inside linebacker's coach Frank Bush pointed out over the summer.
However, Andersen's natural gifts will get him on the field in year one, likely playing a significant number of snaps on special teams. In Atlanta's Week 2 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Andersen did just that, playing 19 special teams snaps (83 percent) and an additional nine snaps on defense.
Despite the loss, Sunday proved to be a special day for Andersen, as he recorded his first two NFL tackles and made a game-changing play on special teams, blocking a Rams punt that was subsequently returned for a touchdown by outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter, pulling the Falcons within one possession in the fourth quarter after being down 25 earlier in the second half.
So, how did Andersen make his big play? Rams head coach Sean McVay explained after the game.
“On the block punt, they had a free runner right up the middle long snapper," McVay said. "(Long snapper) Matt (Orzech) just ended up missing his block. When you get that internal penetration like that, it's going to be tough to be able to get it off. We didn't even block them is what it looked like to me. When I saw it, it was almost like there was an unabated A gap rusher right up through the middle."
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In other words, it was a missed assignment by Los Angeles - but it shouldn't take anything away from Andersen, who used every bit of his speed to close the gap and make the play.
Falcons head coach Arthur Smith appreciated Andersen's impact play for what it was - a big momentum shift to pull the Falcons that much closer, while acknowledging that his special athleticism played a big part in finishing.
“It's a lot in the pro football game, when you got two good teams that are swinging," said Smith, when discussing the momentum change. "Troy's an explosive athlete. He got there in a hurry, and we did a good job picking the ball up and scoring."
While the blocked punt was certainly Andersen's biggest play, his increased role on Atlanta's defense shouldn't go unnoticed. It's a positive indication that the 23-year-old is beginning to take strides in the right direction, steadily improving his standing within the inside linebacker's role.
Most notably, Andersen received the nod over veteran Nick Kwiatkoski (healthy scratch) and Nate Landman (undrafted rookie) for playing time, showing he's firmly in the mix behind Mykal Walker and Rashaan Evans at inside linebacker.
Evidently, the Falcons are beginning to trust Andersen more and more by the day, and with plays like the one he made Sunday, it's easy to see why.
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