The Lions didn't have two Outside Linebackers on the field at the same time a whole lot this past season. This could be because of the dropoff in talent from former OLB Justin Durant to current OLB Ashlee Palmer. Or it could just be the scheme Schwartz and Cunningham decided to go with. Maybe even both. Either way, those coaches are gone now, and enter newly acquired Head Coach Jim Caldwell and Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin. With Austin as DC, it has been confirmed that we will be keeping a 4-3 defense. It's also been reported that the Wide-9 alignment will be used depending on who's on the field. That's all we really know for sure right now. But if we can guess from Austin's past defenses, we may be looking at a team that will be using 3 linebackers on the field more often than not, like he did as a DC with the Florida Gators. This is all speculation of course, but I think adding a good hybrid OLB/DE would benefit this team greatly. Some of the top tier hyrbrid OLB/DE's include Anthony Barr, Khalil Mack, Kyle Van Noy, and Ryan Shazier. But like WR, I think this position is pretty deep and there are a few guys out there that may find their stock rise fast and end up being projected much higher. This time, I chose to look at who many believe is the top OLB/DE in this years draft. Anthony Barr.
Anthony Barr has had an interesting path to the NFL to say the least. Coming out of Loyola High School in Los Angeles, California, Barr was an All-State running back and 1,890 rushing yards and 20 TD's as a junior. He then committed to UCLA in 2010 and started on the offensive side switching roles between wide receiver, running back and tight end. He only had 15 rushing attempts and 12 catches in his first two years with the Bruins, and spent most of his time behind guys like Johnathan Franklin and our very own Joseph Fauria. After head coach Rick Neuheisel was fired, former NFL head coach Jim Mora took over and encouraged Barr to switch from running back to linebacker. Mora has said a lot of good things about Barr since he began coaching the Bruins. In a USA Today article, Mora gave him some really high praise.
"He's the best player on our team and the hardest worker on our team," Mora says. "He's a great leader who does it with his actions, his work ethic, his attitude, his commitment. In my opinion, and I haven't seen everyone in the country, but there is nobody I'd take over Anthony Barr, and I spent 28 years in the NFL and I have a real clear understanding what they're looking for from football character to personal character. He's an A-plus in everything."
His first year as a 3-4 OLB in 2012, Barr ended up with 13.5 sacks (2nd in the nation), and 21.5 tackles for a loss (T-4th). But what really made him famous was his hit on Matt Barkley ending his season with a sprained shoulder.
Anthony Barr stands out above everyone else at his position because of his athleticism and speed. He's been said to have run a sub 4.5 40 time which is ridiculous for someone his size. If he can fill out his frame and develop into a better pass rusher he can be unstoppable.
When Barr is in his sprinter's stance, he has a really fast first step that will get him in the backfield quicker than anyone. In this play, Nebraska runs a speed option play to the left and Barr gets to Martinez so quick he actually gets a hand on the ball and forces a fumble. Another example of how freakishly fast Barr is for his size. Barr comes off the edge unblocked and makes contact with the running back 3 yards before the line of scrimmage before throwing him down for just a 1 yard gain.
While Barr is extremely athletic and has arguably the most upside out of anyone in this draft, that makes him an extremely raw prospect. Much like Ziggy Ansah, Barr doesn't have a whole lot of experience at his position, but he is freakishly athletic. There are a lot of things that Barr needs to work on if he wants to succeed at the next level because his athleticism can only get him so far. There were games where Barr would dominate, and there were also games where he could not shed a block to save his life and he would be invisible all game. This past year against Arizona, Barr did not record a single fumble, sack or even tackle. He was non-existent. Coach Jim Mora blamed it on holding from Arizona's offensive line, but still...if you're considered a top 5 talent going into the NFL draft, you think you would be able to at least get one tackle against a college team even on a bad day. But that's just what Anthony Barr is right now. A work in progress.
The biggest thing Barr needs to get coached on right now is the ability to pass rush and shed blocks. Too many times you would see him get locked up against an opposing tackle, tight end and even fullback sometimes. He needs to get coached up on using his hands more actively and freeing himself from opposing blockers so that he can make a play on the RB/QB.
Barr also needs to do a better job of recognizing where the ball is and who's hands it's in. Against the zone-read, Barr often saw himself choosing the wrong guy and would either pursue the QB when handed off to the RB or vice versa. This may not be as big of a problem transitioning to the NFL as there are less offenses to go up against using the read-option, but obviously he needs to get in the habit of doing a better job recognizing where the ball is to be successful. I would show some clips with examples on these critiques but you can literally look at any video of him and find plenty of plays with these examples. Another concern with his awareness is the fact that, for the limited amount of times he's had to be in pass coverage, he tends to look lost far too often, and has trouble recognizing routes.
All of these negatives are coachable and will get better with experience. What scouts and experts love about Barr is his athleticism and flashiness. He will surprise you and blow up a play completely out of nowhere. This makes me believe he can turn into an elite defender with the right coaching. Here's an example of Barr actually doing a great job recognizing where the ball is going on a reverse play that he stops for an 8 yard loss.
Barr has great lateral agility and as you can see in that last play, he has the ability to change directions with ease.
Oh, and there's also this.
With that last note on Barr - he has the fastest avg time getting to the QB on his sacks (3.52 secs) I've charted ahead of Mingo, Attaochu— Greg Peshek (@NU_Gap) January 22, 2014
Why We Should Draft Him
The Lions could use a playmaker at OLB who can pass rush. It was clear last year that the Lions were not comfortable having 2 OLB's out on the field that often, and there just wasn't a whole lot of depth or talent at the position outside of Levy. Palmer had a pretty mediocre year, while Whitehead had a great year on ST but still is developing as an OLB. The Lions could pick up Barr with their #10 pick and develop him into a star pass rushing OLB with the right coaching. Speaking of coaching, Bill Sheridan will be coaching our linebackers this year, and he happened to arrive with the Buccaneers the same year Lavonte David was drafted and did a great job devoloping him into a star. The Lions took a risk in drafting Ziggy Ansah last year because he was raw and had little experience. He ended up having a great year for a rookie and still has yet to come close to reaching his potential. I could see the Lions doing the same thing this year and drafting another high risk/reward player in Anthony Barr.
Why We Shouldn't Draft Him
On film, Barr didn't really impress me at all. He was absent from the game far too often and could not shed a block to save his life. Should we risk taking another high risk/reward player two years in a row? It's easy to fall in love with a guy because he can run fast for his size if you're a scout, but it will take a lot of patience to wait for Barr to turn into a star if he ever does. Ansah came in and was asked to do one thing...rush the passer. Barr will be asked to do more, and didn't really look particularly great in any aspect of the game. Barr is pretty much pure athleticism right now, and scouts and experts are loving that right now. However, Khalil Mack is also very athletic, just not as fast. And he may be a safer pick and would have a better immediate impact as a pass rusher. Barr is flashy, he just needs to be more consistent.
I am all for drafting an OLB/DE with the #10 pick, especially Barr or Mack.
If I had to create a big board from the 5 players I've written about so far, it would look like this.
1. Sammy Watkins
2. Mike Evans
3. Anthony Barr
4. Marqise Lee
5. Kelvin Benjamin
All of those players are great, and I'd love to have any one of those guys on the Lions. Anyways, I apologize for making this one a lot longer than I expected. I'll be doing my next one on Khalil Mack within the next week. Let me know who you guys would like to see after Mack, and thanks for the support.