Replacing the likes of Anthony Barr will be no easy task for the UCLA Bruins.
In the past two seasons, the consensus All-American has accounted for 23.5 sacks and 41.5 tackles for loss. Barr's ability to rush the passer made him arguably the most dynamic outside linebacker in the entire country. It'd be a relative shock for Barr to not be drafted within the top 10 of the upcoming NFL Draft in May.
To be frank, there isn't another Anthony Barr currently on the roster. Barr's athletic ability and pass-rushing skills are special. As a result of facing double and even triple teams regularly, it opened up advantageous opportunities for players such as Cassius Marsh. Simply put, his absence will be truly felt across the defense.
Junior Aaron Wallace and sophomore Deon Hollins will certainly vie for the vacant spot. Wallace is the more experienced option of the two. He's been solid—although unspectacular—in a reserve role the past two seasons.
Hollins is more dynamic from a pass-rushing perspective. The Houston native has a lightning-quick first step, and can absolutely get after the opposing signal-caller. However, he's a bit on the small side at 6'0", 228 pounds.
Hollins played primarily with his hand in the ground as a rusher this past season. He'll have to show the ability to also drop in coverage effectively.
Of the candidates on the roster, the one best equipped to replace Barr is rising junior Kenny Orjioke.
The safety-turned-linebacker from Marietta, Ga. signed with UCLA when he was only 16 years old.
He most resembles Barr from a physical standpoint. Only 19 years old, Orjioke stands at 6'4", 240 pounds. He's got a lengthy body with long arms and an athletic frame. One could easily envision Orjioke packing on another 15-20 pounds as he continues to mature physically.
Orjioke played sparingly as a freshman, mostly contributing on special teams. As a sophomore this past year, his role expanded as Barr's top reserve.
Orjioke's statistical resume from 2013 isn't overly impressive on the surface. In 13 games, Orjioke accrued 11 tackles. However, on second glance, Orjioke was very impressive in limited time.
Despite only having 11 tackles, Orjioke managed 2.0 sacks and a blocked punt—which ultimately resulted in a touchdown.
Upside is truly the name of the game for Orjioke. He's not a proven commodity at this point in his career. Should he start next season, there will be growing pains. Orjioke is a raw, but extremely talented athlete with a tremendous ceiling.
In his brief time on the field in 2013, glimpses of his considerable upside were present. It's now time for Orjioke to become more technical as a pass-rusher. Much of Barr's effectiveness did come on third-down situations. Barr was able to put his hand in the dirt, pin his ears back and rush the passer relentlessly.
This position is essentially a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end. Orjioke will need to continue to improve on his pass-rushing technique, as well as become more adept in pass coverage.
With continued refinement and consistency, Orjioke's upside is to the point where he could develop into an impact player for the Bruins down the line.