Saints snag Stephone Anthony late in NFL draft first round

Former Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony, seen here lining up in the 2014 Orange Bowl, was selected 31st overall in this year's NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints. (File photo)

CLEMSON — The real big winner of the New Orleans Saints’ surprise choice with second 1st-round pick is famous for serving pizza, Skee-Ball and a mechanical mouse.

Nearing midnight Thursday after being selected 31st overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, learning his football future one night earlier than expected, former Clemson middle linebacker Stephone Anthony was asked by the Saints’ in-house reporters if he suddenly had any big weekend plans to celebrate.

“Right now, I’m in daddy mode. Got my little girl with me,” Anthony said, according to the Saints’ web site. “Probably go to Chuck E. Cheese and hang out.”

The family fun center will soon have at least two additional patrons – Anthony and his young daughter – as a result of the Saints’ belief that Anthony can help cure their defensive woes.

“I’ve got a pool of emotions through my body right now. It’s a dream come true for me,” Anthony said. “It’s probably the best way it could have happened.”

Anthony was regarded as perhaps a third- or fourth-round prospect coming out of his senior year, when he led the Tigers in tackling for the second straight season. A strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine in February pushed him into second-round contention.

Something the Saints saw in Indianapolis, or at Clemson’s Pro Day, coaxed head coach Sean Payton to prefer Anthony to a slew of other players at his position. Anthony was the only middle linebacker taken in Thursday’s first round.

“Stephone Anthony is a player we’ve done a ton of research on. There’s a handful of linebackers that we felt could play inside, and potentially outside – all of which we feel are real good players,” Payton said. “But we love his makeup, his size and flexibility. He’s sharp.”

Unexpectedly, Anthony gave Clemson multiple first-rounders for the third time in school history – and this was the first such draft involving two defensive players.

Anthony finished with 330 tackles at Clemson, and had a propensity to regularly find his way into the backfield. Mostly, he was renowned by defensive coordinator Brent Venables for his leadership and constant motor, whether it was the Orange Bowl or a fall camp practice.

“I think it comes naturally. It comes from my serious attitude and want-to,” Anthony said. “I think guys respect the guys that want to go do it first before everybody else.

“I think I do a good job with my athleticism,” Anthony continued. “I think I do a good job being able to cover guys, play in space, play downhill in the run game, attack guys and play the leverage game.”

The Saints were the second-worst defense in the NFL based on total yardage last year (trailing only the Falcons, who selected Clemson pass-rusher Vic Beasley eighth overall.) Both NFC South squads turned to the NCAA’s top-rated defense in 2014 for reinforcements.

Anthony’s Saints host Beasley’s Falcons on Thursday Night Football, Oct. 15. The rematch is at the Georgia Dome in Week 17, on Jan. 3.

“They had an outstanding season, great defense, and a lot of prospects,” Payton said. “Through the process, we watched a ton of Clemson film. When we spoke with Brent Venables, (Anthony’s) name comes up in five seconds.”

So instead of letting nerves gnaw at him all Friday, Anthony can plan a fun daddy-daughter day at Chuck E. Cheese.

“I was preparing for either/or,” Anthony said. “The Saints took a chance and pulled the trigger on me, and I appreciate it.”