After taking a month to review the 2013 NFL Draft, it is already time to look ahead to the 2014 class. In fairness, I will do my best to focus on senior prospects for the next few months and move to juniors/redshirt sophomores when the time is right. I am only taking pre-season evaluation notes for now, focusing on where prospects win and where improvements can be made. Therefore, treat these posts like rough drafts and not final opinions.
Preseason Notes Archives on Quarterbacks
Notes on Arizona State DT Will Sutton
Prior to the 2012 season, few outside of the Los Angeles area knew Anthony Barr’s name. The son of former Notre Dame and Eagles’ running back Tony Brooks played the same position as his father during his first two seasons with the Bruins. Barr made 11 starts in that span in a hybrid H-back role. However, the athletic prospect made the transition to edge rusher before his junior season and flourished, leading some to peg Barr as a top 15 talent.
The Bruins predominantly deploy a traditional three man front with two pass rushing linebackers on the edge, although they do incorporate four man fronts on occasion. Typically lining up in a two point stance as the right bookend rusher, Barr was able to use his upfield speed to disrupt edge runs and pass attempts.
This is not a revelation, but Barr is at his best when beating offensive linemen to their spot. His get off is unreal and does not rely on timing the snap count, which is even more of a positive since proper timing can potentially fool evaluators. Even when the left tackle starts his drop at the perfect moment, Barr has the upfield quickness to gain a step and turn the corner. This is where Barr’s offensive change of direction experience is useful, displaying the ability to plant of either foot on a dime, ultimately shortening his distance to the quarterback. Combine that with reported 4.47 speed (and a projected 10 yard split that is ridiculous) and you have a pass rusher who eats up the open field.
Barr’s issue as a pass rusher surfaces when forced to handle contact. He does flash swatting away an offensive tackle’s hands when gaining a step on the edge, creating more separation to bend. He’s not quite Von Miller in terms of his flexibility, but Barr uses his available space to his advantage and closes with ease.
Now, what if Barr’s initial angle is protected, either by an extra blocker (tight end) or mobile tackle? The outside linebacker does show toughness on first contact at times, delivering a solid pop that can jolt his opponent. However, that hit is usually led by a shoulder or his chest, allowing the blocker to obtain the dominant position. If Barr wants to incorporate a counter move into his game, he needs to find first contact through his hands. From there the pass rusher could press and create separation on his own.
Once Barr’s upfield momentum is shut down, he struggles to restart his engine. I saw this same trait from Bruce Irvin during his final season at West Virginia, albeit in a miscast alignment. Irvin improved his use of leverage and contact during his rookie season, however, and I think Barr can do the same. He doesn’t lack power or toughness, which is readily apparent when watching his takedown/drive through tackles, but it is not consistent in every facet of the Bruin’s game.
Speaking of consistency, Barr was a very productive player in 2012, but he left a lot of plays on field due to the lack of a great motor from the backside. He has the speed to chase more plays down from behind. His motor is fine, but this could take Barr’s game to the next level.
Barr’s lack of technique when engaging hurt him against the run. When everything works well and he keeps an outside shoulder free, Barr can stretch the edge and force runs back inside. However, once an offensive lineman controls with the latch Barr’s chances of success diminish considerably. Again, strength on first contact is not the issue, instead it is the tendency to put himself in a negative position.
Backfield vision likely plays a role in this. Prior to last season, I thought Star Lotulelei took himself out of too many plays due to wasted movement. Those extra steps or poor angles were caused by a lack of vision and recognition. He improved in this area and Barr can do the same, especially since gaining vision from the edge should be easier than a muddled interior.
Looping edge rushers inside has become a very successful trend in the NFL, and Barr can be very effective in this defensive wrinkle. Again, he struggles to work through trash, but Barr can find lanes and fire through gaps in stride. It is tough to not think his days as a ball carrier did not help in this regard.
Barr was not asked to stay in coverage frequently, and that makes total sense. He did flash playing a short zone and stick on a string with runners in open space, taking down ball carriers with an engulfing tackle. In man coverage Barr tends to focus solely on his assignment, trailing them and losing all quarterback vision. This is only a note and not a real negative, since he will rarely be asked to do much other than rush the passer from a variety of angles.
Where He Wins
The lightning quick pass rusher is able to gain an advantage on the edge and keep it thanks to his burst off the line, ability to cut off either foot towards the quarterback, and flexibility to bend around the corner. He closes distances quickly, which can be effective from a variety of alignments, and Barr is a punishing finisher.
Areas Of Improvement
As previously stated, Barr doesn’t lack pop on first contact, he just lacks technique. Once Barr starts using his hands and length, watch out. That should come with experience, since it is pretty incredible what Barr accomplished in only one season on the defensive side.