The UCLA Bruins were a huge surprise in 2012 as they won the Pac 12 South division under first year head coach Jim Mora. One of the biggest shockers in their turnaround came on the defensive side of the ball with first-year linebacker Anthony Barr. Last season, Barr turned in a spectacular campaign while still learning the position, and in 2013 he will terrorize opposing offenses on his way to the 2013 Pac 12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award.
Barr’s story is pretty fantastic already. When Mora took over the Bruins’ head coaching job, Barr was one of the first roster changes he made. He transitioned the long-time fullback over to the defensive side of the ball to linebacker. The junior happily accepted the change of position, even though he had never played on the defensive side of the ball. An injury last spring kept him off the field for spring practice, giving him even less time to physically learn his new position.
So with just about a month of experience under his belt, Barr opened the season as one of UCLA’s starting outside linebackers where he made an immediate impact. He tallied a Pac 12-leading 13.5 sacks in 2012 to go along with 21.5 tackles for loss. He was a leading candidate to win Pac 12 DPOY last season, but ultimately lost it to Will Sutton of the Arizona State Sun Devils (a very worthy selection).
Barr could have gone to the NFL following his breakout year, but decided to come back to continue learning the position. Mora thinks that will only make him more attractive in the 2014 draft as he continues to rave about his development:
“I think if he continues to progress, he’ll be a top five pick…If he can come anywhere close to duplicating the acceleration of the position — learning the position like he did last year and the improvements he made — he’s going to be scary.”
The one-time fullback at the bottom of the depth chart became one of the preeminent defensive players in college football last season, and he didn’t even know what he was doing yet. With another year under his belt to learn and grow as a linebacker, “scary” is a good word for what he’ll become next fall.
That should put him at the forefront of the DPOY race for next season. Barr will once again go head to head with Sutton, who also decided to return for his senior season with the Sun Devils, as they vie for most dominating defensive force in the conference. They will have other competition as well, however.
Scott Crichton will return for the Oregon State Beavers after recording 9.0 sacks in his sophomore season. Dion Bailey will be moved around as the main defensive playmaker for the USC Trojans in Clancy Pendergast‘s new defensive scheme and could have a monster year. Perhaps one of the talented Stanford Cardinal linebackers Shayne Skov or Trent Murphy who step up and lead the Pac 12 defensive charge.
But above all of them, Barr has the edge. All the other contenders are playing at their highest levels (or very near it) while Anthony Barr is just scratching the surface of what he can do. Yeah, “scary” is an excellent word to describe Barr’s 2013 outlook.