I still remember the 2015 draft.
It was exciting.
The norm for the team was trading away draft picks, but that year the team had some ammo with an extra 1st, 3rd and 5th round picks.
That off season I did a lot of mock drafts online. Linebacker had been a weakness for year. Vilma was really the last legit linebacker we had. Lofton was a necessary signing, but he had serious limitations. That years draft was full of talent at middle linebacker, and out of all of them, Anthony was my favorite.
Some of the other prospects seemed more instinctual or more polished, but I saw Anthony as something special. In my eyes he had the biggest upside and could be a superstar in this league.
You could imagine my excitement when we selected him with the 31st pick. Finally some athleticism at linebacker. Finally a defender with the speed to chase down and contain Cam Newton. Finally!
My excitement was soon tempered as the 2015 season began and it became apparent what a mess the defense was.
It’s really hard to judge Anthony on his rookie season. Why? Well, consider these points:
-Junior Galette went insane (or better yet was found insane) and was released, creating a giant vacuum opposite Cam Jordan.
-the middle of the defense was as soft as baby shit, leading to getting gashed on the ground
-it was a thoroughly confusing defense (even after a big deal made in the off season about it being “simplified”) that routinely would play zone on one side and man coverage on the other
-and possibly the most important factor was Brandon Browner, an obnoxious, unhinged penalty machine who couldn’t cover a sleeping toddler.
Starting in the NFL as a rookie is hard enough. Starting at middle linebacker and being the signal caller is even harder. Starting at middle linebacker and being the signal caller of a confusing defense with no pass rush that’s susceptible to the run and has a starter at cornerback who can’t cover anyone is a recipe for failure.
I don’t want to downplay Anthony’s role in the defenses performance. Anthony bit hard, and I mean HARD on play-action. He routinely over-pursued on runs and abandoned his gap responsibilities, opening up huge cut back lanes. Now of course the line was getting pushed around, but at the least, maintaining your gap could be the difference between a 6 yard run and a 20 yard run. He also had issues with his depth in zone coverage. The middle of the field was a favorite target of opposing offenses. Anthony was often an arm’s length away.
So he needed some work, some coaching up, and that was the problem.
Joe Vitt, the man, was wonderful. I even think that he had a positive effect on the team when it came to morale. but in terms of coaching, his record speaks for itself.
I’m definitely not the first one to point this out, but it bears repeating: we haven’t developed ONE linebacker his entire tenure. Not one. We have brought in already developed linebackers from other teams.
To be fair, Vitt wasn’t given much to work with, but not having one player that you could point to for your entire time with the team is unacceptable.
It seems like last season was too much to ignore. Anthony was asked to switch positions, to take on less responsibility, to be able to “see and go,” and he could barely break the line up. His best game of the year was against the Bucs where he started at middle linebacker in place of an injured Craig Robertson, and while he had some head scratching moments, he settled in as the game went on. The defense certainly didn’t lose that game, and Anthony was key in that defensive effort.
Anthony needs reps to settle in, and from what I’ve seen so far (which admittedly is very little), I don’t think his position is strong side linebacker.
The question becomes “Can Mike Nolan correct these mistakes? Can he make Anthony a more disciplined play and make him at least adequate in coverage?”
There’s no doubt that this off season is the most important in a long time. Drew is on the last year of his deal. His career is almost over. The team is going to have to go all in and make a big push to capitalize while the window is still open.
Middle linebacker can’t be a hole.
So what are our options?
You could address it in free agency and sign someone like a Donte Hightower, or address it high in the draft on Reuben Foster. Either one would signal Anthony being a backup.
However if the team feels that Anthony has shown enough to give them confidence going into this year that he can man the middle under the tutelage of Mike Nolan, the team can save valuable cap space and draft picks. That could translate into a pass rusher, a starting guard or both.
Saving Anthony could mean the difference between another 7-9 season and a deep playoff run.
By the way, Another wears #50 and just finished his 2nd season.
50 divided by 2 = 25.
Falcons blew a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl.