10 New Orleans Saints who must make an impact in 2015: No. 3, Stephone Anthony
By Brian Pavek
We have reached the top 3 on my top ten players who MUST make an impact in 2015 if the New Orleans Saints will contend. He is the final defensive player on this list and one of the reasons why I refuse to panic over the ‘loss’ of good ol ‘pootie tang’ (Junior Galette). I won’t be dignifying his idiocy with any more of my time, but if you want to know my opinion on him then tune into my weekly podcast . This isn’t about players that are gone, nor is about raising the average IQ of the team, it’s about players who will actually be wearing Black and Gold.
If there is one position that experienced a drastic increase in talent over the offseason it is without question the linebacker position. In my opinion there was nothing weaker on the roster last year from a talent perspective than linebacker, and its arguably the most important position on the defense. Linebackers are able to make an impact all over the field, and if you look at the elite defenses they are all stacked with quality ones…many of them stars. That brings us to number 3:
Number 3: Linebacker Stephone Antony.
If there is one thing that the Saints linebacking corp hasn’t had at all since losing Jonathan Vilma its been athleticism. They have been slow, unskilled (in some cases), and undersized. Stephone Anthony single-handedly changes that; at 6’3″ 240+ pounds Anthony possesses near ideal size for an inside linebacker in the NFL. The guy is a ‘prototype’. He also has tremendous athleticism to go along with that size and his measurables are going to stack up with just about anyone, most notably a 4.56 40-yard dash and 4.03 second 20 yard shuttle at the combine.
What those numbers clearly demonstrate is that Anthony isn’t just big, but agile. I can’t stress enough just how valuable a linebacker who can not only make plays against the running game, but actually COVER is. As much as I loved Curtis Lofton he couldn’t cover a chair given a blanket…it’s just a fact.
Anthony not only has the ability to do so, but seems to specialize in it as he repeatedly made plays in the passing game during OTA’s. Now of course that’s shorts and shirts and we have to be careful how much we read into OTA’s, but the fact is that Anthony has already made a positive impression and has begun to show signs that he is exactly the player I thought he would be when I scouted him before the draft.
Speaking of scouting as a Saints fan there is only one man you can go to before the NFL Draft if you want to develop an informed opinion: Mike Detillier. I have no problem saying that he knows a lot more about the ins and outs of the game than I do, and he DEFINITELY knows more about College Football which I rarely watch. So what did Mike have to say about Anthony?
I don’t like the Seattle Seahawks anymore than anyone not from Seattle, but I will freely admit they are talented (back to back Super Bowl trips is a clue after all). Interestingly enough while their secondary gets all of the glory the Seahawks best unit might actually be their linebackers. Ludicrous right? Not so much. There was a time period last year where the Seahawks defense looked VERY mortal, and that time just so happened to coincide with the absence of stud inside linebacker Bobby Wagner.
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Why do I bring that up? Well if you will kindly direct your attention above to Mr. Detillier’s tweets above you might just happen to notice who he thinks Stephone Anthony compares to…Bobby Wagner. Here is the impact he had when he came back last year: over a four game stretch the Seahawks AVERAGED giving up 6.8 points and 188 yards a game. That is preposterous. There is of course a lot that contributes to that, but they maintained a preposterous pace all the way to the Super Bowl and Wagner was the key cog behind it.
I’m neither delusional nor silly enough to come out and predict that a rookie is going to come in and be the next best thing to arguably the best linebacker in the league. I will however say that if he is even half that player he is better than anything we have had since 09′ Vilma, but if he is at least two thirds the player that Wagner is (very reasonable expectation in my opinion) he could be a bonafide star for the team by year’s end.
Anthony has all of the physical tools one would need to be a very good to great linebacker. But, considering the week that we just had if I were a fan (duh, I am) I would be just as concerned about a player’s character as their physical ability. Junior had the physical gifts, but he has been mentally troubled all the way back to college…its why he got kicked out of Temple. Anthony doesn’t have that issue.
In fact, it is exactly the opposite. He was a team captain, a leader in the locker room, a leader on the field, and a player who has a well documented work ethic. Stephone Anthony has never had any character issues and has already demonstrated his ability to work his way through adversity. There was a point at Clemson where he actually lost his starting position for a short time, but Anthony immediately responded by getting his butt in the film room and working his way not only back into the starting lineup, but into the first round of the NFL Draft.
I fully expect him to immediately push presumed starter David Hawthorne for the job and to force him to battle it out with recent acquisition Dannell Ellerbe for the weak side linebacker spot. Anthony has had no problem learning the defense up to this point according to reports, and that is yet another reason why I think he will become a star sooner rather than later. Saints coach Rob Ryan can be quoted as saying:
"“I think the game, it’s not very fast for him. He’s been really well-coached in college, he understands football, he loves football, so he’s learning at a very quick rate, and that’s awesome. That you can see with no pads on. I think when the pads go on, you’ll start hearing him out there, too. He’s a big hitter.”-Rob Ryan"
Now we all know that Rob and his brother are more than a little talkative and that the bombastic DC that we all love so much isn’t shy about talking up his players. However, Rob probably isn’t bloviating about this one, Anthony is known to be both studious and intelligent to go along with his physical tools.
NFL Spin Zone
I could really go on all day with how much I am looking forward to seeing this player suit up in black and gold. Part of that comes from the fact that he is simply an awesome talent and to me pushes the Jimmy Graham trade with Seattle in the Saints favor.
I can’t count how many times I have sat at home watching the game and screamed at the TV as a play unfolded because I knew without a shadow of a doubt that our linebackers simply couldn’t get there in time. Don’t even get me started on their performances in coverage, but as much as a pro Curtis Lofton was the fact is that he was let go mainly for the reason that he is far from a complete player. He has his weaknesses (all players do), but where he was a liability Anthony can become a strength.
In my Saintsnation columns I have repeatedly called Anthony a ‘transformational player’. I don’t know if it’s a term others use or not, but it works for me. What I mean by saying that is the totality of the impact Anthony is capable of having on the Saints defense as a whole is pretty alarming. Having not only a competent linebacker, but one that is explosive and intelligent allows coordinators to make calls that they ordinarily wouldn’t. They can both use more complex looks as well as simplifying the defense and playing flat base. Both options become available because you have a player right in the middle of the field (the best position to access pretty much any play made) who is able to be effective in all situations.
I have to make it clear that up to this point I am not predicting that Stephone Anthony is going to just come out and be the next Wagner or Kuechly. I am saying he has the potential to have a similar type of impact and that even if he only partially lives up to the hype it would be an incredible boost for the team. Make no mistake if the Saints are going to have any hope of contending in 2015 then they will need Stephone Anthony to have a tremendous IMPACT…both literally and figuratively.