On a defense filled with playmakers, Mark Barron managed to make a tremendous impact last fall. The first year starting sophomore notched 75 tackles (42 solo) and hauled in an uber-impressive seven interceptions. As a result, it's no surprise that Barron has the potential to become a very good draft prospect. The Bama safety debuted at #26 overall on MockingTheDraft's initial 2011 Top 75.
However, it's yet to be seen whether Barron will rise into the "elite" category or simply remain an above average prospect.
At 6'2", 210 lbs., Barron possesses great size and above average upper body strength. If he can get his mitts on the ball-carrier, Barron most likely will come up with the tackle. For the most part, Barron is a reliable open-field tackler, but his slightly stiff hips can lead to him getting juked in the open field. And though he hustles, the leggy safety doesn't always look fluid change directions. Nevertheless, he uses his good (but not great) speed to chase down plays and is willing to pursue sideline to sideline.
Though Barron lacks the explosive hips necessary to deliver big hits in a phonebooth, he's very good at sizing up defenders from a distance. And while it may be inadvisable, Barron's not at all averse to dropping his helmet and using it to bludgeon defenders. He can be an intimidating presence, but it's notable that he didn't force any fumbles last fall. He'll bruise ball-carriers, but he's not quite explosive enough to stun them.
Barron also is a willing hitter in the passing game, but he makes an even bigger impact as an ballhawk. In Bama's dynamic defense, Barron is given many opportunities to make plays, and he usually makes good on them. When the action is in front of him, Barron is an instinctive, opportunistic defender. He possesses sticky, almost receiver-like hands and is able to go up to get overthrown balls. He'll occasionally struggle when playing with his back to the ball, but his long arms help him deflect passes and restrict receivers' view of the ball.
However, Barron often struggles when forced to come down and play man coverage. He's able to use his decent speed to run with slower tight ends, but he's exploitable when matched up against athletic TEs or wide receivers. On quick slants, Barron can used his length to make plays on the ball, but he's easily duked by double moves and lacks the speed or change of direction ability to recover.
In the SEC Championship Game, Barron had a lot of trouble covering Aaron Hernandez, at one point getting beat badly on a slant & go route. The same issue also popped up in the BCS Championship Game, in which Barron had trouble redirecting and keeping up with the action. Offensive coordinators may factor Barron's deficiencies into their gameplans this fall, which could lead to Barron having about as many negative plays as positive ones.
Though a premium-sized playmaker, Barron has some weaknesses that could be magnified when he gets to the next level. Ideally, a team would pair him with a rangy safety, which would allow him to play in the box more and avoid having to match up in man coverage. If he steps up his game, Barron could declare early and make his way into the 1st round, but there's also the possibility that his lack of exceptional explosiveness will drop him down draft boards.
Here's an excellent clip of Barron versus Arkansas. In it, you can see some of him athletic limitations, but his physical strength and willingness to hit also stand out. Hopefully, we'll see more of the positives this fall.
A big thanks to Mario for cutting the clip.