Athletic Ability vs. Football Ability – Stephone Anthony vs. Paul Dawson

Every year, through the College Football Season, scouts and general managers watch tape of players they are looking to evaluate or draft. How a player performs on the field is vital to that assessment process, because that is what they will be asked to do for a team that drafts them. Then, comes the postseason. A big part of that postseason is the NFL Scouting Combine, where all the players you saw on tape are measured, weighed, and timed to a fine degree. My belief has always been that if a player produces on tape, then the Combine should only adjust his grade to a fairly small degree. Yet, we see some players rise or fall drastically on draft day based on their Combine performance. No two players stand out as opposite ends of the scale this year more than linebackers Stephone Anthony and Paul Dawson. Dawson’s college tape was outstanding, and his play recognition skills are elite to the point he really jumps off the page to you. What goes in Dawson’s eyes gets processed at superfast speed, and translates into action in the twinkling of an eye. That showed in his statistics, where he was one of the most productive linebackers in college football. In his senior year at TCU, he totalled 136 tackles, 20 for a loss, and six sacks. Then came the Combine, where he was measured at 6’ 0”, 235lbs, and timed at 4.93 over the 40. I had Dawson listed as a first round talent, but his stock plummeted, and he went to Cincinnati with the last pick of the third round. Stephone Anthony, on the other hand, had a decent, but not outstanding college career. In his senior year, he had 74 tackles, 10.5 for a loss and an interception. Looking at his tape, Anthony looked like a third day pick to me, because despite his obvious physical ability, he just looked like he had no feel for the game and was always a step or two late to where he needed to be. At the Combine, he stood 6’3” tall, 246 lbs, and timed at 4.56 over the 40. On the back of this, he started to rise up draft boards and was taken at number 31 overall by the New Orleans Saints. The comparisons between the two players are all the more interesting because they show a clear difference in instincts, which is such an important part of playing the linebacker position. During the preseason, those football instincts have served Dawson well, as he leads the Bengals in tackles with 17, 15 of them solo. More importantly, 13 of those 15 solo tackles were registered as stops, meaning they were either at or behind the line of scrimmage or for negligible gain. Tackles made if the offense has achieved its objective are mostly meaningless. Crucially, Dawson has no missed tackles. Typical of Dawson’s  tackles was a 3rd and goal play from the two yard line vs Tampa Bay, just into the fourth quarter. The handoff was to the tailback going through the ’B’ gap on the right side. Dawson came from the other side of the formation, pressed through the line, and made a touchdown saving tackle. That is the kind of play coaches want from their linebackers. Thus far, Profootballfocus has Dawson (+5.2) listed as the best defensive player on the Bengals' roster after only Geno Atkins (+7.1). Dawson grades out positively in every category, including as a pass rusher where he has 2.0 sacks to his name. Stephone Anthony’s performance for the Saints has been rather less impressive. He has shown himself to be less able to diagnose plays where he struggles to find the ball, and has consistently failed to get off blocks once engaged. He has been hesitant in pass coverage, and at times, looks unsure what his assignment is. In profootballfocus rankings, Anthony is again the exact opposite of Dawson. He is ranked as the second worst player on the Saints defense (-5.3), and is negatively ranked in every single category. Anthony has made ten tackles, but more importantly missed three. Whilst five of those tackles are registered as stops, three have come when teammates had already disrupted the play and left Anthony to clean up a ball carrier already struggling to stay on his feet. In a fairly similar sample size of plays (Anthony 97/105 Dawson), Anthony has provided just over half the production of Dawson, which exactly mirrors the proportions demonstrated by each in college. In fairness to Anthony, he has played more first team reps that Dawson, but even so, the difference between them on the tape is clear. It will be interesting to see if experience and coaching through the season can raise Anthony’s football savvy to the point where he will be able to take advantage of his superior physical gifts, but at this point in time, the lesson from these two players is clear. Football ability trumps athletic ability, and what you see of a player on tape in college is what you get when you draft him. David Wilson is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting course and a writer for Raider Nation Times. Follow him on Twitter @linebacker41
David Wilson
David is a graduate of National Football Post's Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp.

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