My job as a writer is to help fans be prepared for any scenario that may come about on draft day. And it seems like every year, the Dallas Cowboys surprise their fans. Whether that be by moving up and selecting their highest rated defensive player in the draft (Morris Claiborne) or falling back late in the draft and selecting a player who wasn’t on the national radar as a first round pick (Travis Frederick). So it’s vital that the fans of the team know any scenario is possible, including the fall of an elite player into the middle of the first round.
As of late, UCLA’s Anthony Barr is a player that has lost momentum going into the draft and some draftniks are starting to bash him. In particular, ESPN’s Todd McShay went on record stating that, “He wouldn’t draft Anthony Barr” based on his projection as a top 20 pick. He believes that Barr has major holes to his game and that any team that drafts him will be extremely disappointed with the player they are getting. Now, that’s just one man’s opinion, so I wanted to see him for myself and see if I came to the same conclusion.
I started to watch Anthony Barr early in the college football season after seeing a few major scouting sites put him in their top five. I stopped following Barr because I assumed that the Cowboys would have no chance at him. That was my first mistake. But then when I heard that the Cowboys were bringing in Barr for a visit and that there is interest there, I decided to go back and really study him and how he would fit into this 4-3 defense.
Before I even started watching Barr, I had it in my mind that I wanted him to be like Von Miller coming out in 2011. I wanted to have that easy comparison as Miller plays a 4-3 strong-side linebacker and I figured that Barr could play the same role here. That was my second mistake. The more I watched of Barr, the less I saw of Von Miller. But the player who Barr truly reminds me of is Aldon Smith in San Francisco. Smith plays the 3-4 outside linebacker for the 49ers, but I see elements of both player’s games that can translate to the 4-3. Both players win with their feet and length as opposed to strength or a set of pass rushing moves. But before we get into the film, let’s take a look at both player’s measurables and see how they compare physically:
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Barr is a little lighter, but quite a bit quicker and a better mover than Smith. But physically, they are comparable. But what I see in Barr that reminds me so much of Smith is the different ways he can get to the quarterback using his God-given abilities. The first game I watched of Anthony Barr was against USC in 2013. If you want to watch that game, here is the video below:
If I am being honest, I was underwhelmed with him at first. Like I mentioned before, I wanted to see Von Miller. I want to see him covering tight ends and blowing up tackles in pass rushing situations, but I didn’t see it. I saw a guy that is better at flowing to the ball than taking on blocks and shedding them. Someone mentioned to me before I started watching him that he is nearly the same size as DeMarcus Ware coming out of school, but I didn’t see the natural strength that Ware had at Troy.
But what I did see was a player that is raw (only played linebacker for two years as he was previously a running back), but knows how to use his freakish athleticism and length to his advantage. And I saw it twice on at the end of the game that made me say “WOW” out-loud. The first being on a simple speed rush on a tight end in which he uses length to strip the ball. Take a look to see what I mean:
There are only a handful of guys in the entire world that can make this play. And on this particular play, it reminded me so much of what Aldon Smith does in San Francisco. He uses his speed and length to disrupt the play without ever engaging with the blocker. The next play is my favorite play I saw from him in the few games that I watched:
This play is the reason why many scouts and draft fans fell in love with Barr during the season. He executes the spin move to perfection by using his feet to set up the tackle and then beats #72 with his quickness and length. Again, this is a player that not many players in the NFL can even make.
There is a ton of “finesse” to Barr’s game. And that will scare team’s away. He isn’t heavy handed in the sense that he will walk tackles back into the quarterback. He is going to win by being a better athlete than his opponent and by using his feet to fool defenders like the play above. And because he’s a great athlete, he can make spectacular plays when he’s asked to play in space. Some players get nervous and are hesistant. Not Barr. Once he sees something, he is going full throttle to it. Below is another GIF that is a perfect example of that:
Barr has elite change of direction skills and has a real knack at beating read options and reverses like the one above. If you let him run around and just be Anthony Barr, he will make plays for you. I believe keeping him in a two point stance is what’s best for him as he sees the field better then when he has his hand on the ground. And if the Cowboys want to make the playoffs anytime soon, they will need to continue to find ways to stop the read option and the mobile QBs in the division. Barr is a player that can help in that area.
The one area that does worry me is that he doesn’t play with much leverage or any kind of upper body strength. Every thing he does it based off his feet, his athleticism and his length. There just doesn’t seem to be any sort of punch in his game and he lacks power in his hands. Here is an example of that:
Whether it be lack of functional strength or limited experience at the position, Barr doesn’t know what to do after he’s been engaged with a defender. In this play, he is engaged and then disengages and tries to move down the line unto another defender. To me, it looked like he had no plan of action before the snap and never even tried to put a move on the tackle.
I believe Anthony Barr will be as successful as the coaches let him be. If a 3-4 team drafts him and asks him to go one-on-one versus a left tackle on every snap, I think you will be disappointed. The same goes for a 4-3 team that just asks him to be their strong-side linebacker. Barr wins by using his length and athleticism and if you can find creative ways to use him, he will thrive in this league.
If you like what you have seen from Anthony Barr and would like for the Cowboys to select him, there are a few teams you need to watch that might be interested in his services before the Cowboys draft at #16. Those teams are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (#7), the Buffalo Bills (#9), the Tennessee Titans (#11) and the New York Giants (#12). After number 12, I don’t see another team that is a fit for him. If you draft Barr, there needs to be a clear plan for him. I worry that he gets into a system that is too old school and a team doesn’t utilize him to his strengths. But if he falls to the Cowboys in the draft, I would jump all over the chance to work with this player and down the road you just might see the next Aldon Smith in Dallas.