When Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer arrived at Winter Park Thursday, they had an idea who they were going to take with their first selection in the 2014 NFL draft. They didn't know if they could pull any draft day tricks to move down and still land him, but, as they had done with the Cleveland Browns two years earlier, they flip-flopped picks with the Browns to still acquire the player they wanted – UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr.
With just two years of experience at outside linebacker – he played running back his first two seasons with the Bruins – he is a raw prospect, but the Vikings had a similar experience in last year's draft when they moved back into the end of the first round to select and explosive playmaker on the offensive side of the ball.
"To me, it was a little bit like Cordarrelle Patterson last year," Spielman said. "You don't pass up these athletic-type players because they are too rare and too hard to find."
Spielman felt the Vikings could trade down from No. 8 to No. 9 with Cleveland to add a fifth-round draft pick without worrying about losing out on Barr. Other teams made trade offers to get into Minnesota's spot, but the Vikings stuck to their guns at No. 9 because Barr was a player they didn't want to risk potentially losing out on by trading back too far.
Zimmer said there was plenty to like about Barr on film, both as an edge rusher and a strongside linebacker. Given the elite quarterbacks in the NFC North, the Vikings need to have a strong defense and Barr can help that immediately.
Spielman echoed those sentiments, saying that Barr has so much natural talent that he can be an immediate difference-maker and can be a glove fit in Zimmer's aggressive defensive scheme.
"This guy has very good football instincts for only playing the position for two years," Spielman said. "Where he's going to have to get better likely is with the technical things. With the history of Coach Zimmer and his staff, that's right in their wheelhouse."
Zimmer can't wait to get to coaching up Barr because he sees the start of his career as the tip of the iceberg in terms of his untapped potential and incredible upside.
"It really excites me," Zimmer said. "I like taking guys with talent and coaching them. Those kind of guys you can take a lot farther. The guys who don't have as much talent, you can make them better players. But he is still learning a lot of different things and we can teach them a lot. I have a vision when we pick them what we're looking for and how we can use them in different ways and how we can use them to our advantage to put stress on the offense. He was one of the more unique guys that we had in the draft."
The comparisons with Barr are among the loftiest that some have seen. The most immediate current comparison was to Denver's Von Miller, a similarly skilled athlete who can make plays from sideline to sideline. Spielman said the Vikings were looking back even farther to find players that Barr reminds them of.
"The things that he can do for his size is pretty unique," Spielman said. "You hear some of the comparisons of the Jason Taylors of the world. (Scott Studwell) even mentioned he's a Chris Doleman-type athlete. He's very unique."
Zimmer seemed to make it clear that the Vikings weren't looking at quarterback with the ninth pick. They were looking for a player who can make an immediate impact and Barr fits the bill in that regard – both immediately and down the road.
"We're trying to build this thing not only for this year, but for the long haul," Zimmer said. "The more good football players we can get, the more we can add."
The Vikings envision Barr being on the field a lot because of his rare skill set and fans may want to get used to the idea of seeing him on the field with teammate Chad Greenway a lot because both are expected to see plenty of time in the middle of the Vikings defense.
"We see him as a three-down player," Spielman said. "I don't think you take a player, especially where we were picking in the top 10, that can't play or contribute on three downs."
Some scouts viewed his lack of tangible experience at linebacker – just two years in college and none in his final three years of high school – as something that could drop his stock, but Zimmer views that as an untapped commodity. It may actually help out from the coaching standpoint.
"I don't think it's a detriment at all," Zimmer said. "I think it's a positive. When you think about it, the guy has played two years on defense and done the things that he does and has the athletic ability that he has. He's like a fawn. He's just learning some of these things. He's not so raw that he's not a good football player, because he's a really good football player."
The Vikings were looking for athletes that can make the types of plays that change games. It was the reason they traded back into the first round last year to land Patterson and many of those same expectations will welcome Barr to Minnesota.
"You can't coach what he has," Spielman said. "It was like the same conversations we had last year with Cordarrelle. You can't coach what he has from a physical standpoint. All the other stuff is coachable and they'll definitely improve. His ceiling just keeps going up and up. He has a very high ceiling."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings on Barr: ‘He has a very high ceiling'
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