The Minnesota Vikings traded the No. 8 overall pick to Cleveland, just to drop down one spot and add a fifth-rounder later in this draft. And then the Vikings turned around and made a slightly surprising pick themselves, taking UCLA OLB Anthony Barr.
Barr's draft stock had fluctuated all over the place over the past few weeks, his incredible athleticism boosting him up while his rawness as a defender threatened to drive him deep into Round 1. Both Detroit and Tennessee, however, looked like potential landing spots for the edge rusher. Minnesota got the jump on both, adding a Barr just inside the top 10.
Strengths: Spectacularly quick off the edge, and flashes the ability to bend well when trying to turn the corner around blockers. Puts his speed to use once he works free of blockers, closing on QBs in a hurry. Chases the ball well — 83 tackles in 2012 and 66 in ’13, many coming with Barr pursuing to the far side of the field. Deceptive strength both as a tackler and in fighting off blocks.
Barr’s willingness to shift from running back to receiver to H-back and finally to linebacker highlights his coachability, a factor NFL teams pay very close attention to during the draft process. Barr also speaks honestly about the areas in which he needs to improve.
Coveted size for an edge player. Once he develops a little better feel for his timing, Barr will be difficult to throw passes over or around because of his length. Some room to add bulk, though he said at the combine that he feels most comfortable at his current weight.
Weaknesses: Must become far better utilizing his hands to shed blockers, as he can be dominated at times right now. Along the same lines, Barr has to improve his repertoire when rushing the passer, because a straight speed rush will be less effective in the NFL than it was at UCLA.
By his own admission, Barr’s coverage skills leave something to be desired. UCLA did not ask him to drop with much regularity, but it will be a key component of his game from here out, especially if he lands as a LB in a 4-3 scheme. He also misses more tackles than he should while gunning for the big hit. Barr will run himself out of position against play-action and misdirection, an element of his game that NFL offenses will exploit until he hones his awareness.
This grade could change drastically in the coming years, depending on how quickly Barr develops from something of a one-trick pony rusher to a complete player. Minnesota found itself a little thin on the edge, especially with Jared Allen's departure to Chicago. It also wanted to upgrade its linebacking corps somewhere in this draft -- Alabama's C.J. Mosley was considered a possibility, given the Vikings' 4-3 base defense.
Barr will provide Minnesota with a definite extra punch around the corner. At the very least he'll be a terrific asset on passing downs. In the perfect scenario, Barr develops into a three-down player that has as much sideline-to-sideline ability as any linebacker in the league.
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