Clemson coach Dabo Swinney heard one NFL scout say inside linebacker Stephone Anthony was a “4.8 guy,” meaning he can run the 40-yard dash in a slow 4.8 seconds.
Swinney craned his neck at that. At 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds, Anthony isn’t built to be the fastest guy on the field, but on tape he’s clearly one of the best inside linebackers in this year’s draft classs.
Anthony turned in a 4.56-second 40-yard dash at last month’s NFL Scouting Combine – the third-best time of all linebackers – and now he’s shooting up the draft boards and possibly into the first round.
“People look at the tape and they know he’s a great player and you like him going into the combine,” Swinney said last week at Clemson’s pro day, “but then when you see him work, you love it. He validates some things that you see on tape but maybe you weren’t sure until you could put the measurements on paper. I was not surprised at all.”
Long before Anthony was performing linebacker drills in front of representatives from all 32 NFL teams last week, he was a star at Anson County High School. Anthony earned the North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year award in his senior season, which saw him play running back, kickoff returner and linebacker. ESPN.com named Anthony the top outside linebacker in the country, and he picked Clemson.
He had 32 tackles and two sacks in his freshman season and was poised to take the next step the following year. He started the first seven games of the 2012 season, and then Swinney saw something he didn’t like.
“He’s kind of been that quarterback-captain guy since the day he got in here, but we sort of had a little bit of a glitch his sophomore year where he got a little bit fat and happy and lost his focus a little,” Swinney said. “All it took was sitting him on the sideline for a little bit and he got refocused.”
Swinney had no more problems out of Anthony. In his junior season, Anthony led the team with 131 tackles and 13 1/2 tackles for a loss. He considered leaving school early for the NFL, where he would join a weak group of inside linebackers after Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, but he wanted to stay at Clemson and work on becoming a legitimate first-rounder.
Swinney named Anthony a permanent team co-captain before his senior season. Without hesitation, Anthony says his best game tape is the September loss against Florida State. He led the team with eight tackles, and two for a loss, one sack, two pass breakups and two quarterback pressures.
“Just attacking,” Anthony said of his mentality against the No. 1 team in the country at the time. “It was definitely a game we wanted to get after Florida State and attack them a little bit and we weren’t trying to let up.”
He again led the team in tackles, this time with 90, and earned first-team all-ACC honors. But it wasn’t until his stellar week at the Senior Bowl that his name started to pick up traction in the draft talk.
Anthony reinforced the talk at the combine with his fast 40 time, along with 23 repetitions of 225 pounds on bench press, a 37-inch vertical and 122-inch broad jump.
After the combine, a report from DraftInsider.com had Anthony as a “favorite” of Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. That pleased Anthony, who grew up a Packers fan, though he feigned ignorance when told Green Bay had a vacancy at inside linebacker after releasing A.J. Hawk.
“It’d be a dream come true,” said Anthony of playing for the Packers, who have the 30th overall selection.
Wherever he lands, Anthony will have taken another step in fulfilling his dream – a dream that started in Anson County.
“Small town, Anson County,” Anthony said with a smile. “Ain’t much there, man, but we play some football.”