Determining the New Orleans Saints’ core players moving forward

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Aug 30, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints inside linebacker Stephone Anthony (50) against the Houston Texans during the first half of a preseason game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Texans defeated the Saints 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

MLB Stephone Anthony:

Anthony makes the cut for two simple reasons: the importance and difficulty of his position, and his performance filling it. Not enough has been made about just how difficult of a job Stephone Anthony has had to step into in his rookie season. Playing middle linebacker in the NFL is difficult enough, but having to do so with a literal scrap heap around you, as a rookie, and having to do so basically from the first days of training camp is tough. Anthony has risen to the occasion and while there have undoubtedly been some growing pains, he has also proven that he has earned the right to be the team’s middle linebacker of the future. Anthony is smart, has excellent character and leadership qualities, and is a tireless worker. All of those are important attributes for someone to be a core player.

However, the one attribute that Anthony possess that no other linebacker since Jonathan Vilma has possessed is arguably the most important to be a key building block for a franchise: TALENT. At the end of the day in the NFL talent is king, and Stephone Anthony has tons of it. Anthony is a rare, phsyical specimen as he has the physicality and power needed to plug gaps and make plays in the backfield, yet, he has the speed and fluidity to both extend plays sideline to sideline and cover. If you were going to build a middle linebacker it would look a lot like Stephone Anthony. He has repeatedly shown fans the flashes of the player he is likely to become this year as he has a number of highlight reel type defensive plays already in his first year.

The middle linebacker is frequently called the ‘quarterback of the defense’ as it is their job to relay the play calls to their teammates, and in many cases play ‘chess’ with the opposing quarterback. Anthony showed just how special his makeup really is when he WON the starting job over veteran David Hawthorne in training camp. He has been the team’s defensive leader all season long, and while the expected rookie mistakes have happened, he’s rarely repeated the same ones. As Anthony matures as a player, and also as the Saints add complimentary talent around him, they will be able to build a defense around his abilities which will in turn allow him to thrive even more. It’s not a mystery that most of his best games have come when Dannel Ellerbe is also on the field. Ellerbe’s athleticism, experience, and savvy as a football player are a tremendous athlete to a young player like Anthony.

The reverse is also true though. Ellerbe was a mismatched piece in Miami where he ended up having to play the middle linebacker role instead of his more natural weakside role, but in New Orleans he doesn’t have to worry about that because Anthony has that position on lockdown. It is positional symmetry like that upon which great defenses are built. The presence of a special talent like Anthony, who also has the psychological capacity and makeup necessary to excel at the position, allows the Saints to truly begin constructing their defense. It has been nearly half a decade since the Saints had a player of this caliber manning the middle of their defense, and while I will fully acknowledge continued growth is necessary, make no mistake that Stephone Anthony is going to be a core part for New Orleans as they move forward into the next era of Saints football.

Next: Brandin Cooks