Throughout the draft season,have proclaimed that the team must upgrade a defensive line decimated by free agency, cap casualty and, well, Jay Ratliff. Today we'll begin our three-week-long draft preview extravaganza with a look at a man with the most realistic chance of replacing recently departed legend DeMarcus Ware. Before we move on to Barr, allow me to explain what we're up to here (it is indeed an extravaganza): every day between now and the draft, I'll offer up a morning profile on one of the Cowboys' national invitees; later in the day, Joey Ickes will publish a film study review of the same prospect to expand and supplement the info I provide. Well go position-by-position, starting with the defensive front and ending with wide receivers. Hope you enjoy!
As has been well documented, Anthony Barr came to UCLA as a running back, winning offensive rookie of the year honors in his freshman season and playing in 12 games (seven starts) at H-Back as a sophomore. In 2012, due in large part to a coaching change, he switched positions; new Bruins coach Jim Mora saw Barr's athleticism, took a look at a crowded backfield (depth chart with current Packer Johnathan Franklin as the lead dog), and talked Barr into moving to the other side of the ball.
To say he flourished at the new position would be a vast understatement. After racking up 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss as a junior (enough for Second Team All-American laurels), he added 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2013, meriting First Team All-American status as well as the Lott IMPACT Award, given to the college defensive player having the biggest influence on his team.
Barr possesses all the athletic traits you would wish for in a first-round pass rusher: a long, rangy frame with explosive speed; suddenness, thanks to a quick-twitch musculature; superfast around the edge; excellent in pursuit; a good tackler who closes quickly; extremely fluid, and able to play in space. Add to that the fact that he's an "RKG," a high-motor guy who was one of the Bruin's leaders in the weight room and the practice field, and we have a nice package.
Want to see this on display? Well, then, let's go to the tape. The superb fellows at Draft Breakdown have video of seventeen (count 'em: 17!) of Barr's games. The best competition from 2013 includes conference games against Oregon, and Stanford. You can also go here to see him effectively derail Matt Barkley's career with a blindside hit in 2012.
At the same time - and almost defying his impressive college numbers - he's still a relative greenhorn at his position. His college coach acknowledged this at UCLA's pro day: "With Anthony, the ceiling is so high," Mora told reporters, "He's only played the position for two years, and [scouts] see the talent. They [also] understand that there's so much room for growth." The notion that Barr has only begun to realize his potential is a scary one, indeed - and will be a comfort to the fanbase of whatever team selects him in May.
What does our panel of draftniks think of Barr and his game? Read on, faithful BTBers, read on!
Rob Rang (CBSSports.com): 2nd-ranked OLB; 8th overall:
Strengths: Perhaps most impressive qualities are Barr's balance, lateral agility and acceleration, which he uses to break down in the open field as well as when exploding into ballcarriers for ferocious hits.
Freakish combination of size and athleticism. Possesses long arms, extraordinary burst off the ball and explosive closing ability -- a terrifying combination that gives him an immediate advantage over pass-blockers. Developing swim move to complement his speed, and possesses the strength and use of leverage to effectively bull-rush.
Followed up breakout junior season with another standout campaign despite facing constant double-team attention. Causes holding penalties due to his athletic motor and power to rip through blocks.
Weaknesses: Still developing as a run defender. Will be tested in coverage if working as a stand-up linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Raw as a two-year player on the defensive side of the ball in coverage, and will need to pick up NFL schemes quickly to be more than a situational pass rusher as a rookie.
Compares To: Demarcus Ware, Cowboys -- To develop into the all-around performer that Ware has become, however, Barr will need to show better leverage and overall physicality, especially when offenses run his direction.
Gary Horton (ESPN.com): 2nd-ranked OLB; 27th overall
Instincts/ Recognition: Adequate awareness for having just two years of experience on defense. Finds the ball quickly when engaged and with blocks. Lacks elite playmaking instincts at this point though. Often will be a quarter-count late with diagnosis against misdirection or deceptive runs. Should improve with more seasoning on defense. Shows better awareness dropping into coverage than anticipated.
Take-on Skills: Flashes initial pop, takes on blocks with proper shoulder and generally executes gap assignment. However, must learn to use his hands much more effectively to take advantage of his length when holding the point. Also too finesse at times and is does not appear to a naturally violent defender.
Range vs. Run: Overall range is average to slightly above-average. Light on his feet but is on the high cut side and flashes some tightness when having to make a sudden redirect. However, has long strides and can cover a lot of ground in hurry once pointed in the direction. Adequate overall hustle in pursuit but will gear down on occasion.
Tackling: Strong awareness as a tackler. Takes adequate angles to slow up runners and appears to have a clear understanding of where his help is in pursuit. Long arms help when forced to lunge or dive. However, he's not a natural finisher. Tends to throttle down prior to contact, rather than exploding through. Leaves his feet too often and misses too many attempted arm tackles. Lacks explosive power at point of attack.
Third Down Capabilities: Possesses ideal length and very good initial burst to gain the edge. Flashes quick hands and can dip inside shoulder to turn the corner. Average torso flexibility though and does not show great suddenness with redirect back inside on double move. Flashes good pop in upper body. However, has a linear lower half, lacks a prototypical powerbase and will often stall out when attempting to transfer speed to power. More than adequate athleticism and range in underneath zone coverage for his size. Flashes ability to carry tight ends down the field but does have some tightness when matched up in man coverage.
Intangibles: Highly respected by coaches and teammates. Excellent weight room and practice habits. Quiet and leads by example. Loves the game and willing to put in the necessary time to succeed. Switched from H-back to defense, where he found a home at OLB in 2012.
Tony Pauline (draftInsider.net): 1st-ranked OLB; 3rd overall
Positive: Two-time all-American at linebacker after starting his UCLA career as a fullback. Senior totals included 65 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, and 10 sacks. Junior numbers included 21.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Started seven games at fullback as a sophomore. Game-impacting linebacker who's displayed tremendous development the past two seasons. Agile athlete who plays with great balance and body control. Easily redirects to the action, breaks down well, and effectively uses his hands to protect himself. Forceful up the field, fast off the edge, and displays tremendous pass rushing skill. Has an explosive closing burst, easily changes direction, and also plays smart football. Takes proper angles to the action and rarely gets knocked off his feet. Remains disciplined with coverage assignments, shows ability in pursuit, and plays to his athletic numbers.
Negative: Struggled with a groin injury last season. Still developing his instincts and gets confused by ball fakes. Disappeared at times last season. Stymied at the point by a single blocker.
Analysis: Barr is a forceful linebacker with a developing game and a prospect with huge upside. To this point Barr is better in the box or up the field and needs to improve his play in coverage. He also must consistently play with a sense of urgency. Best on the outside of a 3-4 alignment, Barr is a disruptive defender with starting potential if he applies himself, continues to improve and consistently play at a high level.
Nolan Nawrocki (NFL.com): 2nd-ranked OLB; 6th overall
Strengths: Exceptional take-off speed, acceleration and closing burst. Makes plays effortlessly in back-side lateral pursuit. Outstanding recovery quickness to make plays (when he is out of position). Explosive striker. Can produce "wow" plays when he triggers quickly or releases cleanly and has developed a reputation for knocking quarterbacks out of games (see USC, 2012 and New Mexico State, 2013).
Weaknesses: Developing instincts -- late to locate the ball and too easily fooled by play-action and misdirection. Motor runs hot and cold -- does not always apply himself. Can be locked down too easily when engaged -- unrefined hand use. Lacks variety of pass-rush moves and relies too much on natural speed. Average eyes, anticipation and awareness in coverage -- marginal feel. Average base strength -- moved off the ball too easily by tight ends (plays tall).
Draft Projection: Round 1 (top 10)
Bottom Line: A highly disruptive, athletic specimen with the pass-rush potential to effortlessly emerge as a double-digit sack producer. Is far from a finished product and his best football is still ahead of him, yet he plays the game with more of an offensive temperament and could require some patience. Is the type of rare athlete that could even contribute as an offensive playmaker once he learns to grasp defensive concepts and the game slows down for him. A top-10 talent.
With the exception of Horton, who somewhat inexplicably rates him #27, Barr is thought by our panel to be a sure-fire top-ten pick; Pauline, who gets his info straight from NFL evaluators, has him as the third best player in this class. Barr's an exceptional physical specimen, with a combination of length, first-step quickness and straight-line speed that makes scouts salivate. That's good enough news, but what I think makes him a top-ten caliber talent is the fact that he still has so much room for growth. If he's not one of this draft's blue-chip talents, he's at the top of the next tier. I'll happily and easily slot him in the first round on my "little board."
The downside insofar as the Cowboys are concerned has to do with position and inexperience. Its one thing for a player to have only two years experience at a given position if that's what you'll ask him to do on the NFL level. But he's not played defensive end, at least not in the way that NFL teams understand the position. With that in mind, he may not make a huge impact early in his career as he learns the nuances of the position. Still, given his athletic upside, its a gamble that appears worth taking. I'd put their greatest need as defensive end. If a potentially top-flight DE, who even one scout compares to DeMarcus Ware, is available when the Cowboys are on the board with the sixteenth pick, I think they'll sprint to the podium with his card and never look back.
Later today: Now that you've seen how the national draftniks rate Barr, stay tuned for our in-house scout, Joey Ickes, who will post a detailed, supplementary film study of Barr to add to what you already know.
Tomorrow: Mizzouri defensive end Kony Ealy