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Stephone Anthony highlights 2015 class of ILBs

The rise in passing offenses made the quality three-down inside linebacker seem like it was going by way of the fullback; or at least a position relegated to quality starts against specific teams.

In the most recent NFL Media seven-round mock draft, none of the top interior options went in the first round despite plenty of buzz at the position during the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine.

Last year, C.J. Mosley was the only true inside linebacker taken in the first round despite some interest from teams hovering around the 10-15 range (Mosley went to the Ravens at No. 17). Ryan Shazier was picked up by the Steelers at No. 15 and contributes heavily on the inside as well.

And while that might hold true on Thursday night, there are some who believe a run on the top three or four players at the position could actually start in the middle or end of the first round. With hype at the skill positions making all of the headlines, we could see teams late on Thursday night angling to get a physical anchor for their defense as more clubs bolster their run game (with so many small, quick defenses around the NFL, the power back is making a huge re-entrance into the league).

One of those linebackers who could possibly kick off the run? Stephone Anthony out of Clemson.

"It's been a fun process, man," Anthony said in a recent interview with Around The NFL. "Just to be in the heat of it, it's nothing but a blessing. It's been so much fun to meet all the different coaches and compete with all these guys."

Anthony, according to two people informed on the situation, has been on 15 pre-draft visits. Some analysts, have him hovering around the late-first, early-second-round range while some have placed a third-round grade on the 6-foot-2, 245-pound linebacker, though it appears he won't last that long.

Green Bay, after cutting ties with A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones, had a heavy presence at Anthony's pro day and met with him at the combine and spoke with him at the Senior Bowl.

Oakland, San Francisco, Dallas, Indianapolis, Minnesota and New Orleans could also be in play, especially if the Packers opt to wait until pick No. 62 to make a run at him.

Anthony is trying his best to shield himself from worry, though, and hasn't taken a look at the latest mock drafts.

He learned as much from his former teammate, current Bills receiver Sammy Watkins, who was the focal point of a draft day blockbuster trade a year ago.

The two have been in constant contact this offseason.

"He gave me a great heads up, just stuff to look out for at the combine and all that stuff," he said. "But I don't even want to cloud my mind with anything like that. I want everything to be a true surprise, you never know. Someone doesn't get picked where you think he'll get picked and the whole board changes. You just never know."

Over a four-year career at Clemson, Anthony registered 255 total tackles, 33.5 of them for a loss. He added 9.5 sacks.

He's hoping those numbers put him in the conversation to be a top inside linebacker off the board whenever that run starts. His competition -- Eric Kendricks, Denzel Perryman and Benardrick McKinney -- is stiff.

And while he's not making any comparisons, he has some lofty goals -- and idols -- to back up his numbers.

"It's Patrick Willis, man," he said. "I know he just retired and God bless him, but I've always wanted to be like Patrick Willis. He plays big and he plays fast and he's a physical player."

The latest Around The NFL Podcast previews the 2015 NFL Draft and breaks down the biggest rumors and storylines. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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