It's a premise with some solid backing. After all, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew personally traveled to Southern California on the opening day of NFL free agency to watch Barr's pro day firsthand:
But is it a good idea for the Lions to take Barr with the 10th overall pick?
In order to decide, I immersed myself in Barr for a day. I watched four full UCLA games, as well as cut-ups from Draft Breakdown of four others.
The games studied include:
There are three main conclusions from the tape, two of which pleasantly surprised me.
Barr is an amazing athletic specimen, and that is not a surprise.
It's easy to see that he was a running back before switching to defense before the 2012 season. His speed stands out, but so does his balance and agility. Barr ranked third among linebacker combine participants with a 6.82-second time, per NFL.com, in the three-cone drill, the best measure of quickness and agility.
While his 4.66 40-yard dash time in Indianapolis is impressive in its own right, Barr annihilated that time at his pro day in front of Mayhew:
Jim Mora just told us that Anthony Barr ran a 4.45 electronically timed 40 at UCLA's Pro Day.— Ryan Kartje (@Ryan_Kartje) March 11, 2014
On tape, it's readily evident how comfortably Barr moves in space. He can plant a foot and explode off it like, well, a running back. He's a lethal weapon in space.
Check out this play from the Nebraska game:
That is open-field speed and burst that the Lions do not have at linebacker. There aren't many backers in the NFL that can make that sort of play.
One who can is a player to whom Barr is frequently compared, Von Miller of the Denver Broncos. Here's a tale of the tape from their NFL Scouting Combine workouts, courtesy NFL.com:
|Von Miller vs. Anthony Barr|
|40 time||3-cone||Vertical||Broad Jump|
|time from Barr's pro day|
Miller edges him out, but it's pretty close across the board. Keep in mind that Barr is two inches taller and weighs nine pounds more than Miller did when he posted those numbers.
A Little More Cooked than Expected
One of the things constantly heard when talking about Barr is that he's very raw as a prospect. While that's true in some aspects of his game, I was surprised to watch how quickly he picked some things up and incorporated them into his play.
One example comes from the Oregon game. The Bruins are frequently in a two-man line, with Barr lined up in a two-point stance directly over the offensive tackle. It would be tempting for him to try and attack the gaps, penetrating for the big play.
Yet even on the first play in this Draft Breakdown video, Barr shows his mettle.
Barr repeatedly demonstrates positional discipline. He's not afraid to set and hold the edge to the best of his abilities, frequently funneling the play to his help. That's a polished game, one that Nick Fairley could learn from.
There are indeed instances where his rawness shows. In the above Oregon game, check out the play at the 22-second mark. Here he gives away edge contain way too easily. But stay tuned for the next play, where Barr once again demonstrates that sometimes athletic awesomeness trumps experience.
That is no slouch at quarterback for Oregon, either; Marcus Mariota will be a very high first-round pick in his draft class. CBS currently has him as the top quarterback in the class of 2016.
There is no question his technique needs serious work, most notably his hand usage. As noted in his scouting report at Detroit Lions Draft, Barr "has little to no concept of how to use his hands and often fails to use them at all…struggles to shed blocks, has no real countermeasures to get free other than trying to bull through it."
But Barr is already to do several things that will be asked of an edge player, or even a 4-3 "Sam" linebacker, in the NFL. Plus, all of his issues are coachable and should improve, perhaps quite quickly, with good coaching and more experience. Remember, two years ago, he was a running back.
Now and Later
The biggest point to remember concerning Barr is that he is being drafted based on what he will become, not what he is today.
This is a point that should resonate with Lions fans. One year ago, Detroit spent the No. 5 overall pick on a similarly inexperienced but athletically terrifying presence in defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.
While "Ziggy" struggled at times, he also produced eight sacks and made several impact plays throughout the season. Ansah proved that even a technically raw prospect could accomplish big things right away with that kind of elite athleticism.
Barr has that athletic freakishness too. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller offers a compelling argument about his physical traits in this video:
Derrick Brooks was so consistently great that he will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer. He's the modern gold standard for 4-3 outside linebackers.
It's a risky projection. Trepidation is understandable. Yet Barr offers an upside that is tantalizing to dream about. Imagine him lined up flanking Ansah, with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley anchoring inside.
Barr offers enough ability now that he could provide an instant impact, but the real value is in what he might become. Even if he "only" develops into a player on the caliber of Lance Briggs or Lavonte David, imagine how much better the entire Lions defense would be.
It's a proposition that Martin Mayhew must strongly consider. There are still good arguments to be made for a wide receiver like Mike Evans or Odell Beckham Jr. or an unexpected draft slider like Khalil Mack or Jake Matthews. Yet Barr definitely belongs high on the list.