Sunday, 25 August 2013

40 Players in 40 Days: Number 4 Anthony Barr

Jonathan Moore/Getty Images
The third player to be revealed this evening is one of the most feared defenders in college football. He is a senior, yet his body of work is only one season long because he spent two years on offense. After two years of failing to live up to his billing as a top recruit, he made the switch to defense in an effort to save his career. No transition time was needed though, as this man immediately took to his new position and became an All-American. The fourth best player in the Pac-12 for 2013 is UCLA senior outside linebacker Anthony Barr. The previous players on the countdown are:

40. WR Chris Harper, Cal
39. OLB/S Dion Bailey, USC
38. S Alden Darby, Arizona State
37. OT Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
36. DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado
35. S Deon Bucannon, Washington State
34. LB Shaq Thompson, Washington
33. DE Taylor Hart, Oregon
32. DT DeAndre Coleman, Cal
31. CB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
30. C Hroniss Grassu, Oregon
29. DL Henry Anderson, Stanford
28. QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford
27. LB Carl Bradford, Arizona State
26. RB Storm Woods, Oregon State
25. QB Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
24. DL Cassius Marsh, UCLA
23. S Ed Reynolds, Stanford
22. OT Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah
21. TE Colt Lyerla, Oregon
20. RB Bishop Sankey, Washington
19. DT Leonard Williams, USC 
18. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State 
17. OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
16. OLB/DL Trent Murphy, Stanford
15. OL David Yankey, Stanford
14. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
13. LB Shayne Skov, Stanford
12. DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State
11. RB Marion Grice, Arizona State
10. LB Eric Kendricks, UCLA
9. DE/OLB Morgan Breslin, USC
8. CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
7. RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
6. QB Brett Hundley, UCLA
5. RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona

Anthony Barr has already had one of the strangest college careers in recent memory. Barr was a top 50 recruit nationally in 2010 and was listed as an "Athlete." The Los Angeles native decided to stay at home and play for UCLA who recruited him to play offense. Barr was installed into the UCLA offense the day he got to Westwood as a running back and tight end. through two seasons as a hybrid playmaker on offense, Barr struggled to keep his head above water in the Bruins offense as he never touched the ball more than twice in a single game during his 22 games as an offensive player. With his career going nowhere and his talent being wasted, new head coach Jim L. Mora sat down with Barr and convinced him to make some drastic changes. Mora saw the size, length, athleticism, and attitude necessary to be a dominant pass rusher and he convinced Barr to give defense a try. it's a good thing Barr listened because one year later, Barr has gone from one of UCLA's all-time recruiting busts to one of its most celebrated players. 

I'm sure Mora saw something in Barr the moment he first saw him that made him think that Barr could be a great defender. Despite that, I doubt Mora could have ever imagined the position switch would pan out the way it did. Playing defense for the first time since high school, Barr lit Pac-12 backfields on fire with 83 total tackles including 21.5 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles. Despite never playing the position before and missing most of spring and fall camp with a hand injury, Barr flourished as an outside linebacker as he led the Pac-12 in sacks and finished second in TFLs. In the grand scheme of college football, Barr finished fifth in TFLs while only Georgia's Jarvis Jones could boast more sacks.

I have a feeling that you like being impressed, so I'm going to show you a collection of Anthony Barr's finest plays from last season.

Barr's number one trait is obviously his athleticism. He can run sideline to sideline and track down any offensive player because he used to be one. That athleticism pays huge dividends when he needs to recover during a play. there are two particular plays in the clip above that I want to highlight to show what I'm talking about at 3:13 and 5:28. On both of those plays Barr bites on a fake to the running back (to be fair, the first one against Nebraska may have been a read option play with Barr as the defender being read, I'm not sure) and most defenders would have taken themselves out of the play by doing this. You can see Barr's freak athleticism though as he is able to recover and not only get back in the play but take down the QB for a loss in both instances. Quite frankly, with Dion Jordan off to the NFL I don't there's another player in the Pac-12 right now who can do that.

You also can't help but be impressed with the kind of power that he hits with. Barr never struggles to bring anyone down. Watch the whole clip above and count the number of times he takes someone off the ground and knocks them back a few yards. it's hard to keep track of them all. I don't want to celebrate injuries because they are terrible and you never want to see anyone get hurt but there's something to be said for the fact that Barr knocked three different quarterbacks out of games with three perfectly legal hits. Rice's Taylor McHargue, Arizona's Matt Scott, and in particular Matt Barkley whose college career was ended single-handedly by Barr, felt the wrath of UCLA's star pass rusher. It's also not a mistake that Barr forced four fumbles and will cause more in the future. Watch at 1:43, he chases down OSU's Sean Mannion and wraps him up with two arms like he's supposed to but look at how he deliberately targets the ball with his right hand and punches it out.

Now if you are a fan of a team with UCLA on the schedule, I have some very bad news for you. Barr produced that great season entirely on talent. Watch all those sacks and you won't find one pass rush move other than simply beating an offensive tackle with speed, agility, and an explosive first step. Barr doesn't even have a go to pass rush move, no rip move, swim move, or spin move, nothing. I mentioned above how he chased the wrong player a few times and those two plays in the highlight clip were hardly isolated incidents. He did seem to have a good grasp of the defense although his role basically amounted to "Hey Anthony, see quarterback? Go get quarterback." All kidding aside he showed good understanding of backside containment on both running and passing plays and he held up okay in pass coverage when he was asked to.

After showing that much raw talent in one year at outside linebacker, Barr is bound to develop even further. eventually, he's going to develop a few pass rush moves, he's going to stop biting on play action fakes and chasing the wrong player, he's going to learn how to run with tight ends in pass coverage and his size and athleticism isn't going anywhere. Given how much ability he has shown despite not really knowing how to play the position, I think he has more upside than anyone in the 2014 draft outside of Jadaveon Clowney. I'll go this far, if he ever really learns how to play his position to its fullest (and I think he will) he will eventually be considered one of the top five defenders in the NFL. He's a sure fire top 10 pick who could work his way even higher up the board with another strong season. There is a bit of a shadow cast over his 2013 season thanks to a recent injury but all indications are that he will be fine. Unfortunately for you, Pac-12 offenses, Barr isn't going anywhere and he is hunting your quarterbacks right now.

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