“I think the inside linebacker position could probably be compared to where we were last year at the safety position,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said at the Scouting Combine on Thursday.
Last year, the Packers filled that gaping hole by using their first-round pick on safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, who provided an instant upgrade at the position and helped lift the entire defense.
This year, the Packers figure to use a premium pick on inside linebacker. Arguably the best prospect at the position in this year’s draft — especially coming off a superb Scouting Combine performance that vaulted him pass Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney in the eyes of the league’s head scout — had a formal interview with the Packers at the Combine.
“That was my first formal meeting,” Clemson’s Stephone Anthony said on Saturday, two days before a superb workout in front of scouts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Anthony (6-3, 243) had been lost in the media shuffle behind edge-rushing teammate Vic Beasley. However, he’s been called a sleeper by those in the know. Well, he’s a sleeper no more. Not after running a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash and a 20-yard shuttle time of 4.03 seconds. Those were the top marks among this year’s inside linebacker candidates.
With that, Anthony might have put himself in position to be the Packers’ first-round pick at No. 30 overall, because his stock has probably risen too high to make him an option at No. 62 of the second round.
“One of the top. Ain’t going to say the top but I definitely consider myself one of the top,” Anthony said.
Anthony, a three-year starter who set the defense as the voice of the unit, recorded 330 tackles for his career. That includes 9.5 sacks and 34.5 tackles for losses. As a senior, he had 75 tackles (45 solo), 2.5 sacks, 10.5 TFLs, two forced fumbles and one interception.
“I definitely bring to the game my explosiveness and ability to attack downhill, and play against the run, cover and play on special teams,” Anthony said.
The attraction with Anthony is his size. Other than D.J. Smith, a sixth-round pick in 2011 who was 5-foot-11, the Packers have shied away from undersized linebackers. On last year’s depth chart, Jones is 6-foot-3, Hawk is 6-foot-1, Barrington is 6-foot-1 and Carl Bradford is 6-foot-1. Past starters Desmond Bishop and Nick Barnett are 6-foot-2. That might give Anthony the edge in the Packers’ eyes over UCLA’s Eric Kendricks (6-0) and Miami’s Denzel Perryman (5-11).
“I feel like if you can play football, you can play football,” Anthony said in downplaying his measurables. “I definitely have some good measurables. I’m not sure how far that will make me stand out.”
McKinney has the size (6-foot-4) and athleticism (4.66 with a 40.5-inch vertical) but his workout was a “big disappointment,” the NFL’s longtime head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas, said.
There was nothing disappointing about Anthony’s workout. Thomas called him the “real deal.” It’s a continuation of Anthony’s work at Clemson and his strong week at the Senior Bowl.
“This first team All-ACC honoree showed that he can be a definite ‘un-and-hit’ playmaker at the next level,” Phil Savage, the former NFL general manager who is the executive director of the Senior Bowl, said on SeniorBowl.com. “Stephone can diagnose and then get to the football in a hurry and with explosiveness. He appears to have the skill-set needed to stay on the field as a three-down Mike and will also help on special teams as a rookie.”
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