How Anthony Barr Fits with the Minnesota Vikings

Darren PageFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2014

Linebacker Anthony Barr pulls in a pass during UCLA Pro Day at Spaulding Field on Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Los Angeles.  (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

The Minnesota Vikings certainly had the linebacker position at the top of their wish list. Adding one with increased value as a pass-rusher was a must. Having too many players who can rush the passer is the best problem to have for a defense. That's where Anthony Barr comes in. 

Barr is a converted running back with only two years of experience on the defensive side of the ball. To say he found a home on defense is an understatement. Barr ran right through offenses all the way to 23.5 sacks and 41.5 tackles for loss in his two seasons.

Barr's instincts and football IQ cannot come into question. His quick transition to the defensive side of the ball is proof of the way he can develop with proper coaching. Conveniently, he's now playing for one of the sharpest defensive football coaches in Mike Zimmer. If Barr fails, it won't be because he doesn't have the mental acuity for the game.

He primarily played on the line of scrimmage for the Bruins. That will change for the Vikings. Barr will play a more traditional linebacker role, where he's lined up at a few yards' depth. The move will change his read and react keys, pursuit angles, and responsibilities. Zimmer alluded to this shortly after the Vikings selected Barr.

At the same time, Zimmer's defense is much less static than that of the previous staff. The new coach likes to move around his linebackers and send pressure from a variety of different directions. Barr will not be asked to be a prototypical outside linebacker in the mold of Lance Briggs. The defensive scheme has the flexibility to be more creative than that.

The creativity of his usage will be important. He won't be able to simply line up and blow past NFL tackles all day. Designed rush lanes and blitz packages that let loose Barr's speed are the most important tasks in order to maximize his effectiveness. This can be done by disguising blitzes or engaging multiple pass-blockers with defensive ends.

Everything about Barr's tape says that he will be a liability as a run defender right away. He doesn't have the bulk that coaches look for in a strong-side linebacker who sets the edge. When opponents ran at him in college, he was too easily hung up on blocks. Building up his frame to a point where he has the bulk and strength to hold up against run-blockers is important. All defenses get to have their fun in 3rd-and-long situations, especially bringing pressure. If Barr's issues against the run persist, the Vikings won't get there often enough.

Early expectations for Barr should be modest. His jump to the NFL game will be big, a jump to a level where tackles can match his initial speed. A counter move as an edge-rusher is the caveat. He has shown an inside rush move occasionally, but he is not overly comfortable with it. In order to become the dynamic pass-rushing talent that Minnesota hopes for, effectiveness has to come outside of schemed blitzes.

Long-run expectations should be different. When using a top-10 pick on a pass-rusher, double-digit sacks should be the norm. Allowing Barr proper time to grow is important, but the pressure will be on before too long if Barr doesn't produce.