There are always those positions that NFL franchises covet. Every year, one of the primary goals of all 32 franchises is to find and sustain a dominant pass rush. Whether you run a 3-4 or 4-3 base defense, that young man you put out there on the edge has to be great. With that, let’s take an early look at one of the best edge rushers in the 2014 NFL Draft class, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr.
Barr is a physical player, ideal for a 3-4 defense. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Barr has plenty of room to grow without giving up any speed. From a positional standpoint, Barr plays that outside rush linebacker spot for the Bruins, but he could also projects as a “wide 9” rush end in a 4-3, or even as a traditional SLB in a 4-3 base defense. Personally, with his potential and upside, being able to rush and cover in a 3-4 is the best use of his talents and what teams will be looking at.
As a pass rusher, Barr is raw but terrifying. His anticipation and burst is as good as anyone in the nation and agility is a trademark of his game. You can certainly tell he got his start as a running back, as he can change direction or spin losing very little speed and can close in a hurry. He typically relies strictly on the outside speed rush, using his inside hand to get up and under the tackle and turn the corner. He’d be well served to develop an inside rush move, using his hands better and work across the face of the offensive tackle with that burst. Many of his plays come from his relentless nature and refusal to give up on the play.
In run support, Barr is also very good. As a former running back, you can tell he has an edge in breaking down the run play, and particularly when the play goes away from him, that speed allows him to get up the line quickly. When he gets to the ball carrier, he finishes with authority. In fact, overall as a tackler, Barr is very skilled. When a play is coming at him, he does a nice job splitting defenders, but make no mistake, he’s not afraid to take on an offensive lineman and force the play.
Obviously, Barr isn’t a finished product. 2012 was his first season at linebacker, and it showed at times. He doesn’t play with great leverage and gets run out of plays at times. As I said, he often makes up for that by never quitting on a play. Ever. On many plays I studied, he was beaten at the snap but just keep churning up field until he could get to the corner and if the quarterback still had the ball, he was history. When he did get bound up with an offensive tackle, he kept his head up, extended his arms and once he knew where the play was going, did a good job breaking off and turning on the jets. But, in the NFL, he’s going to need to develop a good counter move if he wants to get at the quarterback consistently.
As a 3-4 rush outside linebacker he will be asked to drop into coverage as well, and all signs point to Barr being very good at that as well. Again, his past as a running back shows with quick feet, smooth hips and excellent instincts for the routes. He can run with most slot receivers and backs and is physical enough to work against tight ends. In fact, his strength might be the most underrated part of his game, with the speed drawing so much attention.
In the 2013 NFL Draft, we saw several teams draft hybrid pass rush outside linebackers early in the first round. Having broken them down as well as Barr, I see no reason Barr can’t become just as high a pick. He oozes potential and has the “that” you simply can’t coach. Another year of experience and his draft stock is sure to soar.