Behind South Carolina’s enigmatic defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney, UCLA’s outside linebacker Anthony Barr is generally viewed as the next best pass rushing option expected to declare for the 2014 NFL Draft. Barr made the transition from running back to outside linebacker before his junior season, and the 6’4” 248 pound athlete made a splash, recording 82 total tackles, 21 of which came for a loss, 13 sacks and forced four fumbles, while breaking up six passes.
In 2013, Barr entered his senior season with the expectations that he would build on his impressive 2012 campaign, his first as a defensive player, and prove that he was worthy of the Top-5 pick hype he was generating in the offseason.
Barr didn’t disappoint, as he racked up 66 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks, while forcing six fumbles. But is Anthony Barr worthy of being a top selection in the upcoming draft?
Anthony Barr is an exceptional athlete. He gets a great first step off the snap and displays excellent speed for his size. He flashes the ability to “bend” around offensive linemen in order to get into the backfield, and he’s used in a variety of roles within the Bruins’ defense—whether that be rushing the quarterback, playing contain against a mobile quarterback or an outside run, or even dropping into coverage against tight ends and wide receivers.
In this clip, Barr just misses the opportunity to record a sack, but it’s one of the plays that makes you imagine how good of a pass rusher he could potentially develop into given the right coaching.
However, while Barr showcases the ability to burst off the snap, more often than not he’s knocked off balance by offensive tackles, resulting in terrible angles in which he has to get after the quarterback.
In this clip, Barr records the sack against Oregon State, but only after he’s forced to run in a large, looping circle, before closing in on the quarterback from behind. This is undoubtedly great hustle by Barr, but it’s unlikely to be a play that ever occurs against a team in the National Football League.
When defending the run, Barr looks completely lost. He’s as far from instinctual as you could possibly get, and as Joe Marino from BuffaloBillsDraft.com accurately describes, he’s more of a “see and chase’ type defender than a “read and react” player. While it’s not surprising that Barr lacks the instinctual concepts of the outside linebacker position, as this will only be his second year lining up there, scouts will have to decide if he’s willing and able to accept and learn from his coaches at a rapid pace in the NFL.
Here are two plays that highlight the amount of work and coaching Barr must absorb in order to be anything more than a third-down pass rush specialist at the next level.
In the above clip, Barr gets overaggressive and uses poor pad level, which allows an inferior offensive tackle to easily deliver a punch, effectively eliminating his ability to make a play against the run.
In the next video, there is another issue that is far too common of an occurrence for a player as highly touted as Barr is—his ability to effectively convert speed to power. Pass rushers can have all the speed and explosiveness in the world, but if they don’t have the power necessary to counter an offensive lineman, they’ll likely fail nine times out of ten.
As you can see, Barr gets off the snap with a full head of steam, but when he engages with the offensive tackle, he’s eaten up and stopped dead in his tracks. This is against an unheralded Nebraska tackle—what do you think will happen against a professional, NFL lineman that’s likely much stronger and technically sound than this opponent?
Overall, Anthony Barr is a very interesting prospect. He’s a player that will probably get taken high in the first round due to his rare and freakish combination of height/weight/speed that’s ideal for an NFL defense. On the other hand, he’s also a player that front office people will want to dig deep into his character and work ethic, in order to evaluate whether he’ll be driven to clean up his game from a technical standpoint in order to be successful.
At UCLA, Barr was able to win his matchups by simply relying on his athleticism. We’ve seen far too many pass rushing prospects fail at the next level due to a lack of technical understanding for the position, and Barr is certainly one of those “boom-or-bust” type of players.