I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.
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Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson - 6'2, 245 - Senior - 4.56 40
Every team has to decide what value each pick has to them, and they do that by evaluating each position and each role a player takes on a roster. We would not value certain positions at certain points, because even an elite player at some positions does not play enough impact on the field to be valued too highly. That is why inside linebackers (or, non-pass rush LBs) are difficult to assess.
In today's NFL, we are seeing the traditional inside linebacker being specialized more than ever and we divide them by the concept of "early down" linebackers and "all situation" linebackers. Early down guys are those who may be best between the numbers on the field against primarily runs and short pass situations. In the era where fullbacks were always not the field, these men served across from them and would make sure the defense had enough muscle against power runs. But, in today's NFL, there are almost no fullbacks and the early-down-only linebackers are being phased out. What replaces them are those who can run from sideline to sideline with 40-times that used to be for just wide receivers, who can cover on 3rd down, but take on blockers on 1st down. If you can play in any situation, you are still highly coveted, but if you are only part-time, then a team can't take you with too high a pick. If you are part-time, you only play about 400-500 downs in a 1,000 play season. Not enough bang for the buck.
So, in these modern drafts, we are looking for guys like Stephone Anthony from Clemson who appear to be 3-down LBs. Here is a guy who runs a 4.56 (nearly Dez Bryant's time of 4.52) at 245 pounds with a 37" vertical leap and an absurd 1.57 split on the 10-yard. He is a fantastic athlete with 4 years at Clemson where he was incredibly productive. I looked at his games versus Syracuse, Georgia, and Florida State to learn what he is all about.
What I liked: As you can see, Anthony runs like a deer and has impressive cover ability for a man his size. There are LBs in this draft (Eric Kendricks, UCLA) who can cover better, but he is also 15 pounds lighter. Anthony at 245 is strong and can run with hips that are fluid. He diagnoses and attacks down hill against screens or inside runs with intent and violence, and appears to have a fine grasp of the Xs and Os and directing traffic on his talented Clemson defense. He shoots A-gaps with the occasional surprise pass rushes and closes with such impressive straight-line speed that the QB panics as he sees what is happening. He arrives with a thump and looks the part of the type of inside, all-situation LB that we seek.
What I did not like: He will miss tackles and occasionally over-pursues into a hole, only to have a RB like Georgia's Todd Gurley bounce to another hole and be gone. He also is using hands quite a bit on in coverage underneath when he feels like he is beaten by a step and needs to play more sound technique in pass coverage which he has the ability to do. He has to know when to use his aggressiveness and when to understand they are trying to use that against him with some looks to see if he will bite. But, overall, he is generally a force.
Summary: I place Anthony in that group that does pass the 3-down test and looks like a real force to be reckoned with. Anthony attacks downhill and can do so many things because he is a top athlete in this class and when you talk about non-pass rush LBs, you certainly don't have to go too far down the list to get here. He is a play-making leader in the middle of your defense and can run sideline to sideline to make up ground in a hurry. He plays very hard and is very productive and looks like the type of guy who lands on day 2 in the draft and then plays for a very long time. I would certainly consider him one of the Top 3 players in this group heading into the draft.
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