The Minnesota Vikings signed first-round pick Anthony Barr to a four-year, $12.75 million contract on Tuesday, and although his contract is fully guaranteed, he has some work to do to prove worthy of his rookie deal. Barr was used almost exclusively as a pass rusher during his time at UCLA, but since the Vikings run a different defensive scheme that calls for linebackers to drop into coverage, Barr may not see the field as often as you’d expect.
Head coach Mike Zimmer has already stated he plans to use Barr like the Denver Broncos use Von Miller in their 4-3 defense. But Miller was a much more complete player coming out of Texas A&M than Barr is currently, and it may take a year or two for him to come into his own in the NFL.
Prior to the 2013 season, Barr was a highly ranked outside linebacker because of his raw athletic ability, which was ultimately called into question after an average combine performance. His three-cone drill time — which measures explosiveness — was among the best at the outside linebacker position, but his other numbers were merely average; and considering he got by at the college level because of his athletic ability and not technique, he will have a sharp learning curve this summer at Vikings camp.
If Barr is able to be productive when dropping into coverage there’s a high likelihood he will see the field a lot as a rookie, but if he can’t it’s likely he will only be on the field for passing downs, which means his primary responsibility would be rushing the passer off the edge. Barr used his speed and quickness to get past linemen in college, but in the NFL he’ll have to learn to use his hands as well as change direction if he hopes to be successful.
Last year pass rushers like Dion Jordan, Ziggy Ansah and Barkevious Mingo were all taken in the top six because of their athletic ability and high ceiling — similar to Barr — but none of the three established themselves as three-down players as rookies; and it’s unrealistic to expect anything more from Barr. Ansah did total eight sacks last year, but with Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line it forced teams to put their focus elsewhere, effectively leaving Ansah as an afterthought on the edge.
Barr may get the same treatment with the Vikings’ improved defensive line consisting of Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Linval Joseph and Brian Robison, but in-order to see the field, Barr must become a better all-around player and tackler. He did total 23.5 sacks in two years on defense, but he often overshot the quarterback or ball carrier when rushing the edge and rarely showed great tackling technique, instead electing to use his arms to disrupt the quarterback.
While Barr already has a limited but important role on the Vikings defense, to be worthy of his four-year contract and ninth overall selection, he must put in the work and correct his flaws. Right now Barr is far from a Pro Bowl caliber player, but combining his quickness and work ethic with Zimmer’s knowledge should allow him to improve as the years go on and eventually be one of the elite pass rushing linebackers in the league.