Not many players who stand 6-feet-4-inches tall and 240 pounds play running back. That's why Jim Mora Jr. decided to make Anthony Barr into a linebacker after his sophomore season. The size translated and so did the speed. In two seasons on defense, Barr has 41 tackles for loss and 23 sacks. He's gone from being an afterthought at running back to one of the most coveted pass rushing prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The transition didn't happen overnight, though, and in many ways Barr is still learning how to adapt his skill set to the other side of the football. His length and first step are ideal for an edge rusher, but at times he doesn't look natural in space or when closing on ball carriers.
His physical talent alone will intrigue some teams, but is his upside alone worth a top five pick, or should work-in-progress like Barr be taken a bit later in the draft?
Coverage: Barr has actually held up well in coverage over the last two seasons. He's able to use his speed to cover a lot of ground, and his length comes in handy at the catch point. While coverage isn't the area of his game most point to or the area of his game that has people talking about him as a top 10 pick, he does seem comfortable using his speed and recognition skills in the passing game.
Instincts/Recognition: Barr's instincts in other areas of his game are lacking, however. Both in run defense and as a pass rusher, Barr lacks the recognition to make as many plays as he should. Against the read option Barr often looked lost. He's rarely a step ahead of the play and gets by on his speed too much. Even while pass rushing Barr relies on his first step consistently and hasn't developed an understanding of how to beat blockers throughout the course of game by setting them up or using counter moves.
Pass rush: When looking at Barr, his stats jump off the page. A player who is only in his second season as a linebacker would appear to have the makings of a fine edge rusher in the NFL. That may be so, but Barr has a lot of work to do to get there. He hasn't developed any counter moves, and despite his long arms, he still has blockers in his chest a lot. While he's explosive off the snap and has closing speed, he doesn't necessarily bend the edge all that well or generate much power as a pass rusher. He needs to get stronger and find more creative ways to get to the quarterback. He won't win on speed along in the NFL.
Pursuit/Quickness: Pursuit is one of Barr's biggest strengths. When he's chasing ball carriers down in the open field unblocked, he has the speed to catch anyone and the range to make tackles sideline-to-sideline on any given play. Quickness is not his biggest asset, however. He may be fast but Barr is not quite as gifted when it comes to changing directions. It often leads to problems for him.
Run defense: Other than when Barr has an pen lane to a pursue a ball carrier, he's pretty average when defending the run. He doesn't win much at the point of attack and is easily washed out of plays as a result. He also has some recognition issues as discussed earlier. His biggest issues are strength and tackling.
Strength/Tackling: Barr needs to get bigger in order to get stronger at the point of attack. But his strength isn't as big of an issue as his tackling in space. He doesn't have incredible change of direction skills, so it's no surprise that he struggles to make plays in space. He missed too many tackles as a senior.
Final word: Anthony Barr is an exceptional physical specimen. His combination of length, first-step quickness and straight-line speed gives him the tools to be an impact player off the edge in the NFL. As should be expected from a player with his lack of experience, he also has a lot he needs to work on. Few players have as much room for growth as Barr. That's the plus side to drafting him earlier. The downside is he may not make much of an impact early and banking on his development is risky. In the late first-round or early second-round range, he's worth a shot, but earlier than that is quite the gamble for a team to make.