2014 NFL Draft: Breaking Down UCLA LB Anthony Barr

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Can Anthony Barr become an elite, and complete, player?

Anthony Barr was a pretty darn good football player in college. Its hard to project how he'll fare in the NFL. He's got some very good statistics and some nice film...but there's also some times when he fails to make an impact. Below are game-by-game reviews and a quick look at his stats. (there are A LOT of links, and they will link directly to the play referenced -so the same video may be linked linked several times, just at different points). Credit goes to DraftBreakdown.com for the videos.

USC

Right from the start Barr displays his speed by zooming around the tight end designated to block him. It doesn't result in a sack, but he gets the corner and pressures the QB.

Barr lined up against the left tackle most of the game. He also threw a straight bull rush most of the time, and the tackle was able to handle it. Here's where things get tricky. Without knowing the play calls, its hard to gauge whether Barr is doing that on purpose. My best guess is yes. UCLA lined up predominantly in a 4-3 over formation and its likely Barr was supposed to focus on the C gap. Still, in isolated matchups with the tackle, Barr struggled. The tackle had the advantage when he made contact early. You'd prefer to see him shed that blocker a bit more frequently.

He dropped into coverage occasionally - at least more than I anticipated. Most of it was shallow zone coverage when UCLA altered their blitzes.

When UCLA let him fire off the line and go wide, Barr showed the physical prowess that has some scouts drooling. After a fairly quiet game for instance, he then goes and beats the tight end to strip the QB.

Finally, lest you think he can only go outside, we see the reward for Barr throwing the same thing at the tackle repeatedly when the set-up pays off: he spins off the tackle for a sack. You'd like to see him maintain the balance and stay on his feet, but he should get credit for making the play despite hitting the turf. This play was particularly impressive, in my opinion, because he beat the tackle. In the strip-fumble noted before, Barr beat that tight end - that is a matchup that he should and can win frequently.

Nebraska

The first thing I noticed in this game was that Nebraska favoured extra blockers on their line, and as a result UCLA went with five guys on the line (4-3 under). Early on in the game when they did spread out the formation, Barr was lined up outside against the slotback. His coverage skills are not anything to be overly impressed with at this point, but it struck me that Ray Horton would like a player that could have that ability.

A play that stood out in the USC game not noted above was when Barr sniffed out a screen (link) rather than continuing on after the QB when the lineman lets him slid by. His awareness was a good sign. In this game, Barr bit on play action (badly at least twice - here's one). The shifty Nebraska QB also dodged him a few times. You really want to see him make those tackles/sacks (example). On this play, he's able to get around the tackle but whiffs on the QB on the first attempt. He does end up with a partial tackle after his pursuit.

Barr had more of a presence in this game overall. They had him in various roles which allowed him to show off some of his physical traits. Against the left tackle this game, he won more frequently than in the USC match. Its still a challenge to figure out if Barr can be a consistent force every snap. Some of his splash plays have been pointed out above - he certainly accomplished those - but even when he's not making a sack or forcing a fumble, you want to see him create more of a push and collapse the pocket.

There's no doubt he's got some nice splash plays though.

Stanford

There were a few times this game were Barr was picked up easily by the lead blocker on run plays. I was hoping to see him blow up a blocker and make the play. This is a bit of a continuing trend - when he can use his speed, he's a force. With contact, he's less of a difference-maker. As a prospect expected to go in the top half of the first round, you want to see more a complete package.

Keeping up with the trend of big plays: 1) Barr slices inside here, gets picked up by one blocker then pushes both that one and another back into the QB and 2) this is just an example of making a play when he's not touched off the line.

The announcer noted on one play when Barr was double-teamed, and at that point it struck me that Barr was not and has not been double-teamed frequently. That teams are giving him a lot of one-on-one matchups when he does rush concerns me a bit - is it simply scheme that hides some of his play-making, or do they feel a tackle can handle him sufficiently?

Nevada

Most of the stuff in this game was covered above. Nevada runs their offense out of the Pistol formation primarily, and it was interesting to see UCLA work against that. There were a lot of quick passes and reads. I still think Barr struggles against play action and tends to overpursue. His speed helps offset those occasional mistakes, but they could be magnified once that speed advantage is diminished. You can watch him give a little waggle then blow by the tackle here to see some of that pass rushing potential though.

New Mexico State

Repeated, again: Barr can blast off the line and go right around the lineman when. His acceleration is continually impressive when he's unleashed to pass rush freely. At one point he came off the line clean and crushed the QB (flagged, undeservedly though).

SackSEER 2014

Every year the good folks at Football Outsiders put out their pass rush projections based on their SackSEER equation. Its always worth a read. Barr came in second, behind Khalil Mack and ahead of Jadeveon Clowney, with 31.4 sacks projected through five years. Here's what they had to say about him:

Anthony Barr played his first two seasons for the Bruins at running back, but was switched to a pass rushing linebacker for his final two seasons at UCLA. The switch proved fortuitous, as Barr amassed 23 sacks in his final 27 games. Barr compares favorably to former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, who also played his first two years in college at running back, showed promise as a pass rusher, and scored well during the NFL Combine.

Conclusion

Barr's positives should be fairly evident if you've made it this far in the post. He can flat-out get after the quarterback. It would be interesting to know more about UCLA's schemes and whether there was potential for him to do even more damage if let loose more frequently. To the Titans advantage, Lou Spanos should be able to provide that inside info. The scheme fit to Ray Horton's defense was apparent even before seeing the Joey Porter comparison from FO. He can line up at different spots and is familiar playing in a defense with multiple formations. Similarly, he demonstrated an ability to drop into zone coverage - and more importantly, showed that he knows where to go.

Barr isn't without his faults. He doesn't look as good against the run. Too often the blocker picks him up and he's neutralized for the play. To be a complete player he'll need to be able to break free and make some of those crucial tackles (to his credit, his gap control looked good often). The other concern is how his pass-rushing moves translate to the NFL. He doesn't throw a variety of moves at opposing linemen. The spin move in the USC game was noted because it was an impressive change from his outside move - the set-up and execution was rarely seen otherwise though.

Overall, I came away more impressed with Barr than expected. There's a lot to like about his game. I may be in the minority here but as a prospect he still scares me quite a bit. I would like to see more snap-to-snap consistency from someone projected to go in the top half of the first round. He is also still a project. In recent drafts we've seen teams target a 'primary pass rusher'- a player that might not have a complete game but is valuable on passing downs - and reap rewards for the selection. Aldon Smith, for example, had even less production in college and San Fran was able to use him effectively in their scheme. Part of me feels strongly that Ray Horton could get the most out of Barr - but he also had Barkevious MIngo as a rookie in Cleveland and I am conflicted about his first season. He started strong then fell off as the season progressed. Both Barr and Mingo were speed rushers in college. Mingo did finish with five sacks in 2013 (you can see how Horton used Mingo here, in a Week 4 breakdown from DawgsByNature).

Anthony Barr is a player I could support at the 11th spot (depending on who is available there obviously) but not my preferred choice. I'm still holding out hope Teddy Bridgewater or Khalil Mack miraculously fall to 11. Excluding them I would put Barr in essentially the second group of targets for the Titans (Donald, Gilbert, Evans, Dennard, and perhaps one or two more).

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