Anthony Barr enjoyed a breakout season in 2012 as he flourished as an outside linebacker despite never playing the position at the college level prior to last fall. He dominated the Pac 12 during his junior season, leading the team with 13 sacks and 21 tackles for loss while he finished with 82 total tackles, four forced fumbles and five pass breakups. He likely would have been a highly coveted prospect in the NFL Draft, but decided to return to the UCLA Bruins for his senior season, and he’s reaping the benefits of that decision.
But it almost didn’t happen. During the Pac 12 Media Day, Joe Schad reported that Barr admitted he was “85 percent” gone to the NFL after last season. He felt that he was ready to make the move to the next level and had plenty of reason to with his natural ability to get after the quarterback off the edge. But he changed his mind after studying his film from last year and noticing some weaknesses in his game. He chose to return to school to address those weaknesses and seems to be on the right track this offseason.
The most noticeable change has been Barr’s physique. Last season, he found success playing at 235 pounds, but had some trouble holding the edge against the run on occasion. At media day, he showed up at a lean 255 pounds, adding 20 pounds of muscle to his frame which will help him hold up against the bigger offensive linemen in the Pac 12. That bulk should make him equally as dangerous against the run as he has proven to be with his pass rush, which should be even better as Barr reportedly has only gotten faster since last season ended.
Barr’s biggest weakness last season, however, may have been his pass coverage. The former fullback admitted that he was lost at times last season when he had to drop into a zone or cover receivers down the field and has focused this offseason on learning how to drop into passing lanes and recognize the routes being run. If he can add that missing piece to his defensive repertoire, Barr might not just be the best defender in the Pac 12, but in all of college football (and might even get some buzz for the Heisman Trophy).
While he would have been a likely top-20 pick in last year’s NFL draft, Barr’s decision to return for his senior season will benefit him and the Bruins. Barr gets a chance to fill in some of the holes in his game and UCLA gets one of the best defensive stars in the country back to lead their team. The result could be UCLA finally breaking through their Pac 12 title game glass ceiling and Barr raising his draft stock into a top-5 pick.