Part of the reason Anthony Barr ultimately chose to attend UCLA was because then head coach Rick Neuheisel was willing to let him play offense and in particular,running back. After Neuheisel was gone, Jim Mora Jr. was hired and Mora immediately put Barr back on defense as an outside linebacker often in a Leo role, but also as an inside linebacker in certain formations. The idea was that Barr would contribute where he could and they would try to catch him up in terms of really understanding the defense and instincts as he went along.
It was not long before opposing offenses were scheming around Barr and figuring ways to get away from him or exploit weaknesses in hopes of limiting his impact. Barr was still able to make a ton of plays but he was victimized as well. That has continued into this season. Barr is simply a phenomenal athlete in terms of his quickness and explosion and despite taking bad angles, showing questionable run instincts, and playing too high, he still makes a number of splash plays in each game.
Going to the NFL, Barr’s explosiveness and his feet are incredible. He has strength but has some trouble showing it because he is playing far too high, which makes him ineffective when it comes to collapsing the pocket or avoiding getting moved off of the ball. Barr needs to improve his angles and run instincts but his raw speed allows him to correct a lot of mistakes. There is a world of talent with Barr and he has been able to make a huge impact in spite of how unpolished he still is. His potential more than his production is going to be what carries him to the first half of the first round and have him fighting to be the top rush backer in this year’s draft.
Vitals & Build
Barr is listed at 6’4” 245lbs with good strength and explosiveness off the edge. It is not difficult to see the athleticism gained from playing running back, especially with his feet. Barr is able to turn well and has quick feet that enables him to be agile, but needs to take the next step and learn to bend around the edge. Barr is still developing physically and needs to continue adding weight. For all the speed, strength and power that Barr has, it still seems like there is physical potential there to tap into and even though he was incredibly productive, he can improve his leverage and body control. His motor seems to be as good as Barr deems it necessary. He never appears tired but he will gear down on plays he thinks he is not going to make or are across the field from him.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Barr’s snap anticipation is good for the most part but there are examples where he is half a beat late reacting to the snap. Much of this can be attributed to his lack of experience at the position and this should improve with another full year of football.
His first step is good and he is extremely quick in general. From his experience as a running back, he knows how to go from zero to full speed incredibly fast and it starts with his first step. He has played exclusively as a standup linebacker and it would be nice to see what he can do with his hand on the ground, but he is consistently able to make a good initial movement from a standup look. If he is not lined up with his body leaned toward the backfield, he is lined up like a cornerback playing press man in a balanced position with his nose over his toes in a low crouched position, giving him natural leverage and the ability to punch with both hands at the snap.
Barr is still a work in progress as it comes to beating blocks. He is so explosive and so quick that he is able to get opponents off balance or is able to work half the man and just beat them with speed or switch to power. He has a good bull rush he can use, but his hands need to be more active as they tend to just sit on the offensive tackles or tight end once he is engaged. Barr will struggle at times when guys are able to get in front of him from tackles on down to running backs.
Much of the reason that Barr has problem with beating blocks is because he plays so tall. In many cases, he is attacking down on an offensive lineman who is positioned to have all of the leverage in addition to an overwhelming strength advantage. The result is that Barr is easily deflected or just mauled. Barr’s quickness and the fact he will keep working and can occasionally slip through by getting skinny with his quickness makes it so he can win on second efforts, but he has got to play lower consistently. The times he does, it is extremely effective and he flashes power to win and get in the pocket.
Barr will flash a rip move, but his activity, especially with his hands is high when he is coming to take them on, but once he gets engaged, it really drops. Barr’s best move at this point is his spin move and it is a snap spin move that works incredibly quickly and he is in control enough where he is not coming out of it off balance. Rather, he is in control and looking for the ball carrier to make the play.
Barr’s role as a run defender seemed to be simplified for him to keep him playing at full speed as much as possible and cause him to think less. The results made sense considering his ability to disrupt plays in the backfield and just wreak havoc on offenses, but it also demonstrates his lack of instincts as a run defender. Even after two years, he gets victimized over and over by read option looks. Barr would keep crashing down on the handoff to go after the running back and the quarterback would just keep it and continue to go right where Barr was with open field to keep gaining yardage.
That lack of awareness seems to carry over to situations where Barr will shoot a gap and end up in the backfield trying to make a play and it seems like he is standing up on his tipped toes he is so tall, standing out like a sore thumb. He has been strong enough where guys will hit him because he is in such a bad position and has been able to hold up against the blow, but overall this is a recipe for him to be decked, especially in the NFL. There are also plenty of times when he is inexplicably high on the edge and will get driven off the ball as a result and will end up pancaked.
When Barr is right, he is not only quick enough to shoot gaps with the feet quick enough to enable him to turn and catching running backs from the side or behind as they try to pick up yardage, but he also is able to use his strength and collapse the pocket against both tackles and tight ends. When he has his pad level and leverage right, even with his less than ideal weight, he can be incredibly difficult to move off of his spot and he has shown he can be incredibly disruptive. Barr has shown the ability to limit running lanes for the ball carrier but is also able to get into the backfield and make the tackle himself. He is also able to generate power in a short area and can land a powerful tackle on the opponent and potentially knock the ball out for a fumble. Barr has remarkable range and can chase down plays from all over the field as long as he is putting in the effort.
Barr is still raw when it comes to making reads and will need to demonstrate that has a better understanding of the running game and where it is attacking as well as improving his technique and being more consistent in that respect. His athleticism and raw strength have enabled him to be a big time player in college and while those flashes are good, he will need to continue developing so those plays can carry over to the next level against better competition. Still, the flashes are incredibly impressive.
Perhaps part of the reason Barr is such an effective and disruptive pass rusher is that he is counter intuitive with his approach. So many guys with the type of speed Barr has want to live on the outside and rush around the edge to get to the quarterback and Barr can certainly do that as well. What separates Barr is the fact that he is so willing and effective when it comes to rushing inside and using that to set up a counter move, which is most often his spin move to spin back outside and secure the sack.
Barr will slash inside and force the offensive tackle who is more accustomed to going outside to go in and either because he has him off balance of his speed, power or both, the quarterback goes to roll out one way or the other or just goes further back in the pocket. Barr then goes with his snap spin move and chases down the passer.
The fact that Barr is able to come off the edge and attack the outside, go inside or use a bull rush makes him incredibly scary to opponents and it makes him unpredictable. As he gets better taking on and shedding blocks, it will only make him that much scarier as he has a lot of power and long arms to be effective.
Barr plays too high and it really limits how good he can be. If he is unable to win with speed and quickness, he is often beaten and beaten rather easily. He will occasionally flash what can happen when he does get low and he can show off explosive strength and collapse the pocket but those examples are rare. Barr will also end up going into the backfield too high and at times, will end up missing tackles and potential sacks as a result.
UCLA has employed Barr in various stunts and because of his willingness to attack in different ways, it creates opportunities for himself as well as teammates. He does a great job with selling up the field, then sliding inside to attack into the B gap to get into the pocket and make a play, because of his quickness and acceleration.
Barr has terrific closing speed when he can see a sack in his sights, but seems to have an extra gear when he misses a sack and then goes to chase down the quarterback like he took it personally. And Barr is one of the most explosive tacklers in all of college football, so he is not gently laying the quarterback down, but is able to create an incredible amount of power in a short area and if he gets a running start, he has shown he can take a quarterback out of the game.
Barr has better instincts and natural ability as a coverage linebacker than he does as a run defender. Perhaps because he has experience on the other side of the ball and has a good sense of where he would attack as a running back, he has a good sense of where plays are going. He is also extremely light on his feet and can close ground quickly.
Not only is Barr able to play in zone coverage and has a good sense for spacing and where he needs to be to eliminate or reduce the impact of the opposing receiver, but he is also solid in man coverage and has the quickness and ability to change direction to play in tight coverage. He is more comfortable covering running backs but he should be able to cover tight ends as well once he gets more comfortable. Barr can get into his drops extremely quickly and easily while processing where the play is going.
Based on what he has done in college, Barr’s best fit could be as a Leo linebacker in the NFL. He could also be a terrific 3-4 outside linebacker. While he probably could play as a defensive end, he has not done it yet, so there will be questions about how he does out of a three point stance and how he holds up from that position. Even if he starts out as a linebacker on running downs and teams want to have him come up and put his hand on the ground in obvious passing situations, he has yet to really do it, so with more bulk this year, it would certainly be good to see him operate from that set.
Overall, he is a terrific standup linebacker who has the ability to play three downs and contribute in pass coverage, but he is being brought in to get after the opposing quarterback.
Although Barr is rawer and has a lot to pick up before he gets to the NFL, his game is eerily reminiscent of Von Miller of the Denver Broncos. Miller was an extremely polished player when he came out of Texas A&M but in terms of his ability to make plays in any phase of the game and especially when it comes to getting after the quarterback from a standup position is the way Barr works. If Barr can round out his game, he may not quite go #2 in the draft like Miller did but he will not be waiting long.
As much as Barr still has to learn, he is frighteningly productive and the more he learns in terms of instincts and technique, the better he will get so the sky appears to be the limit. The biggest thing Barr has to improve on is his leverage and pad level and just playing lower. The questions with his angles and instincts are something that needs to be developed as well but his athleticism allows this to make up for a lot of mistakes. If he can improve in that area, he will play much faster on the field. He was a fringe first rounder last year and this year he warrants a first round pick, but he is still going to go earlier than he perhaps warrants on the field because of his raw athletic ability and incredible potential going forward. As a result, Barr looks as though he will go in the top 15 and perhaps even the top 10 picks of the NFL Draft.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com