A few months ago when the draft process was just ramping up, San Francisco 49ers fans were probably not planning on hearing much about any of the inside linebackers in this year's class.
Then...Chris Borland and Patrick Willis retired. While most everyone was caught off guard by both retirements, the Niners had already begun meeting with linebackers prior to Borland's retirement. One of those meetings was with Clemson's Stephone Anthony.
Weight: 243 lbs
Arm length: 32 1/2"
Hands: 10 3/8"
40 yard dash: 4.56
Bench: 23 reps
Vertical Jump: 37"
Broad Jump: 122"
3 cone: 7.07
20-yd shuttle: 4.03
- Plays well in space with natural ability to read and react.
- Displays excellent tackling ability and technique driving through the ball carrier to the ground. Rarely misses tackles.
- Very physical defender that won't be bullied around.
- Above average cover skills with experience in both man and zone.
- Good sideline to sideline speed.
- Will need to be coached up in terms of taking proper angles when the ball carrier bounces outside.
- Doesn't pick through clutter well and struggles to get free of blocks at times.
- Can play too aggressively vs the run and will run himself out of a few plays.
- A bit slow to react to combo routes and play action.
- Lost starting job midway through his junior year and desire to play the game was questioned. (He eventually won the job back and earned the praise of Clemson coaches for "refocusing".)
Doing Your Homework:
Check out Anthony's game vs. Florida State in 2014 here. You can also see games vs. Syracuse, Georgia, and North Carolina from 2014 and Ohio State from 2013 over at DraftBreakdown.com.
Why he fits the 49ers:
The departure of Willis and Borland were big blows to a proud, stout defense. While the cupboard isn't bare, it is lacking athletic youth. Anthony would give the Niners a young inside defender to bring along slowly until he's ready to be a three-down linebacker.
Anthony still needs refinement but the 49ers always seem to get the best out of their linebackers no matter who they are. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, his plus coverage skills would be a tremendous asset in a division that now features Jimmy Graham.
Why he doesn't fit the 49ers:
Anthony's draft stock really took off after the Combine in February. Over the last few months as teams have taken a closer look at him, he's gone from a projected mid round pick to a projected day two pick (second or third round). Could that price be too steep for the 49ers also looking to add depth at a number of areas including corner, wide receiver, and offensive and defensive line?
There are some concerns that Anthony's coverage skills won't translate to teams asking him to play a lot of man as the Niners likely will. If that's the case then drafting him to check Jimmy Graham is probably out of the question. (To be fair, there probably aren't too many LBs that can check Graham one-on-one. Heck, there are hardly any defenders period that can cover Graham one-on-one.) Some think Anthony is best suited for a cover 2 defense where he could sink back into zone coverage over the middle.
What they're saying:
- Mike Huguenin of College Football 24/7 listed Anthony as a potential target for the 49ers back in an article for NFL.com back March. He wrote: "[Anthony] seemingly has rocketed up draft boards since the end of the season, to the point where he could be the first true inside linebacker selected."
- NFLDraftScout.com's Frank Cooney lists Anthony as his third inside backer and says: "Anthony has the ability to be at least a consistent force at inside linebacker."
- Check out Anthony's stats over at CFBstats.com.
Anthony is an ideal candidate for the 49ers in a first round trade back situation or if he falls to them in round two. He has one of the highest ceilings of inside linebacker prospects in this class. His athleticism, speed, and coverage skills make him an ideal fit in just about any defensive scheme. As long as teams believe he's dedicated to the game, I think Anthony will be drafted in the first 45-50 picks.