Coming out of high school, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr wanted to be a star on offense.
He was an All-American running back at Loyola High School in Los Angeles and signed with UCLA to play the same role.
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel agreed to give him a chance on offense, and Barr compiled pedestrian numbers in two unremarkable seasons in the Bruins' Pistol attack. That lack of success played a role in Jim Mora Jr.'s decision to switch Barr to defense when he took over the UCLA program.
During Barr's first two seasons in Westwood, UCLA finished 100th and 73rd, respectively, in the nation in total offense. As noted, Barr struggled in the Bruins offense. His talent was never in question, but the way he was utilized limited his effectiveness.
Coming from an NFL background, Mora understood that Barr's size (6'4", 245 pounds), and 4.47-second speed in the 40-yard dash made him the perfect weapon at outside linebacker. It was one of the best decisions he has ever made as a football coach.
Barr made the switch to defense after his sophomore year, and the move was an instant success. In his first three games at outside linebacker, against Rice, Nebraska and Houston, Barr made four tackles for loss and recorded a sack in each of those contents.
In his fourth game, Barr put on a display by wreaking havoc on Oregon State's offense. This video from DraftBreakdown.com shows how Barr terrorized the Beavers and QB Sean Mannion, racking up seven tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks.
In his first college season at linebacker, Barr led the Pac-12 with 13 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. He added four quarterback hurries, five passes defensed, four forced fumbles and a blocked punt. Needless to say, the move benefited both Barr and the Bruins.
Fast forward to today and Barr is widely projected as one of the top picks in the 2014 NFL draft.
NFLDraftScout.com has Barr listed as the top linebacker prospect in the 2014 draft class. ESPN.com draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both have Barr among their top-five prospects in the 2014 draft class.
DraftBreakdown.com provides Barr's defensive highlights and a detailed scouting report from Jeremy Hyde:
Bruins running back Anthony Barr was a breakout performer in his junior season...as a linebacker. In his first season as a defensive starter, Barr’s numbers (60 solo tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and five pass breakups) did nothing but reinforce the move on the part of the new coaching staff. Barr possesses elite explosiveness, speed and flexibility on the edge. He flashes the ability to use his long arms to set the edge against the run, and the ability to shed blockers to make stops on plays run in his direction. Still very new to the position, Barr struggles to diagnose plays on the field, and is highly susceptible to misdirection and play fakes. His raw talent and productivity will make him an early pick, but he may need a year or two to develop in a situational role similar to what Aldon Smith played in his rookie season with the 49ers.
Former Oregon DE Dion Jordan signed with the Ducks as a wide receiver out of high school. After a brief stint at tight end, the Oregon coaches made the decision to switch the 6'7" Jordan to defense and use him as a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end. Like Barr now does at UCLA, Jordan worked his final two years almost entirely out of a two-point stance as an edge-rusher.
In less than two years, Jordan's size, speed and athleticism catapulted him up draft boards everywhere. Despite minimal experience and unrefined technique, Jordan was selected by the Miami Dolphins as the third pick in last April's draft. Barr could go as high in the first round.
Jordan's lanky frame gives him a length advantage, but Barr has a frame more prototypical of a 3-4 outside linebacker. Barr's physique and power enable him to engage with offensive linemen while maintaining the natural speed and athleticism to get to the corner and pressure the quarterback.
His first season at linebacker saw Barr using his athleticism and instincts more than proper technique. Now that he is beginning to learn the nuances of the position, Barr is gaining momentum as the potential first pick in the 2014 NFL draft, as reported by rotoworld.com
Clowney's not a one-play wonder. He has a lot of really good tape from his first two seasons at South Carolina...But I'm not sure if it were May 8, and I was directing the draft for a team with a top pick, that I wouldn't take UCLA LB Anthony Barr over Clowney. Forget all the talk about his commitment; I'm strictly talking about his play on the field.
So here we have Brandt dismissing Clowney's attitude or character from the discussion. He is saying that Barr is a better player. Brandt isn't the only one who shares that opinion. Fellow NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks feels the same way and said as much on this College Football 24/7 podcast.
In a recent article, NFL.com college football writer Dan Greenspan included this excerpt from Brooks:
If we're just going off of what has been done on the tape, Anthony Barr has outplayed him. And when you really think about his versatility and what he brings to the table, I think you can make an argument that he may be a guy that is more worthy of being selected at the top of the board than Jadeveon Clowney based on what we have seen on the tape on the field...
Through four games this season, Barr has three sacks, eight tackles for loss, 17 tackles and four forced fumbles.
Barr is best known for his range as a linebacker, which allows him to track down a ball-carrier or cover a receiver downfield. Against Nebraska, this physicality and range was on display, as Barr had a sack and four forced fumbles.
This breakdown is a great example of what NFL scouts see in the converted running back. Barr's athleticism allows him to disrupt the Nevada pass play by getting into the backfield much sooner than the quarterback expects.
By getting off the line so quickly, Barr beats the Nevada tackle to his spot and uses his hands to avoid being taken out by a cut block. Without stopping to reset, Barr shows great balance and agility, landing on his feet and immediately jumping up with a hand in the air.
This rare show of athleticism disrupts the timing of the play and forces Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo to let go of the ball sooner than he prefers, resulting in an incomplete pass.
Linemen often are unable to get out of their stance before Barr is into their body or around the corner. If they do get set up, Barr has improved in using his hands and making countermoves. His long arms and improving technique allow him to keep blockers from getting inside of his shoulder pads and shutting him out of the play.
The NFL is a whole different game. What makes Barr a more intriguing prospect than Clowney, at least in some experts' eyes, is his high ceiling. Based on his lack of experience on defense, Barr probably has more room for growth than Clowney.
Clowney is a great player, but you never know what kind of effort you're going to get out of him. The questions about his intensity and dedication are doing nothing to help slow the momentum that Barr is gaining among draft experts.
Among them is Sporting News' Matt Hayes, who discusses some of the issues that could keep Clowney from remaining the top prospect as the 2014 draft approaches.
NFL teams aren't going to pay $30-50 million to select a rush end (the second-most important position in the game behind quarterback) with the No. 1 overall pick unless he's spotless. And right now, Clowney has multiple questions about consistent effort, commitment and character.
Clowney is going to be one of top picks, if not the first selection, in the draft regardless of how the rest of his time in Columbia plays out. Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater is as steady as they come and will likely remain near the top of most draft boards. Both players are elite at their positions, but it remains to be seen how high are their respective ceilings.
One positive for Barr is that he is already considered to be a top-five pick, yet he is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. He will likely test well at the combine and should thrive in the interview process with NFL executives during the week in Indianapolis.
The sky is the limit for Barr, and the more he produces, the more he will be talked up as the one player with the potential to leapfrog Bridgewater and Clowney to become the first name off the board in May's NFL draft.
The more success Barr has on the field and the higher the Bruins climb in the polls, the more he will be scrutinized. If NFL teams are looking for the total package of size, athleticism, potential and character, Barr will be in the discussion until the very end.