This is easily one of the trickiest and most important questions for the Saints. Stephone Anthony was acquired as the 31st overall pick as the final part of the Jimmy Graham trade and was the first truly ‘athletic’ linebacker in New Orleans since Jonathan Vilma blew out his knee. One of the best ways to improve a defense is to get a fast and instinctive linebacker in the front 7. A great athlete at the linebacker position can be transformational for a defense because they can change the way opponents attack the defense. So far Stephone Anthony can absolutely be called ONE of those things, he’s incredibly athletic. Unfortunately through two years Stephone Anthony has shown that he lacks the instincts and football intelligence that is needed to be great at the position, heck at times he has made some question whether he even has the instincts to even play in the NFL at all. This has caused many fans to start to believe that Stephone Anthony is a bust (which as of today he is) and worse than that…that he’s hopeless.
This is a hard question to answer because there aren’t a lot of people who would argue with you if you said he’s had far from the best help in the coaching department through this point in his career. As much as veterans loved him, Joe Vitt was NOT known for being great at developing young players. This makes it harder to assess if Anthony is truly a lost cause, or simply a talented player who hasn’t had the help he needs to turn the lights on. To answer whether or not I think that Stephone Anthony is a lost cause, or hopeless you have to look at two factors. CAN he be a quality player, and is it likely.
If I was going to give Stephone Anthony a nickname just by looking at him it would be the Prototype. If you build an NFL linebacker from the ground up its supposed to look like Anthony. He’s got size, speed, strength, tackles well, he has absolutely every physical attribute a player could ask for. He’s known for being an intelligent guy and a soft spoken leader. However, what has always been the biggest obstacle to him since he got in the league is his ability to quickly diagnose plays and go. He either hesitates, or misdiagnoses a play on a consistent basis and both are death in the NFL for a linebacker. The biggest question mark Stephone Anthony will have to answer is whether or not he can ‘turn on the lights’ and start diagnosing plays faster and more accurately. If he can do that he can not only be a starter in this league, but his other attributes say he could be a star.
I do believe he has the capability and the intelligence that theoretically a player would need to adjust their game and catch up to the speed of the NFL. Anthony has shown flashes and bursts where he is in the right place at the right time, and he’s done so in coverage as well as filling lanes. His problem has been consistency. If he can adapt to the NFL game and pick up on his keys, he will thrive, if he can’t he may be out of the league. The days of a downhill thumper are over, and he has to prove that’s not all that he is.
How likely is it:
This would be so much easier to answer if Anthony hadn’t been injured so much last year, but it is what it is. The reality is that while Stephone Anthony has every attribute outside of instincts I would ask for in a linebacker, instincts just so happens to be the most important one (in my opinion at least). The odds are not in Anthony’s favor, and with the Saints adding multiple linebackers over the off-season they get even lower. The problem he has is that instincts is something you can’t really teach, they are something you are born with, and if his issue really is instincts he may never reach his potential. If on the other hand his issue has more to do with decisiveness and cognition, you can coach him and train him to process information faster and to make the right calls.
If I was going to give the odds for Stephone Anthony living up to his first round draft pick slot they would be less than 20% at this point. If I give the odds of him being a rotational NFL linebacker I would say its about 60% just because of his gifts, but the reality is that everything is squarely on his shoulders. There are a lot of doubters out there (many for good reason) on whether he can ever be anything in the NFL, and the only one who can really answer that question is Stephone Anthony himself. But, based on what we’ve seen up to this point….it doesn’t look promising.
Here’s hoping he proves me wrong.