Anthony Barr is receiving praise that rivals his draft status.
While QB Teddy Bridgewater is getting the majority of the attention among Minnesota Vikings rookies, he wasn’t the first player the team selected in May’s draft. That distinction falls to their No. 9 overall pick.
Barr entered the league as a raw prospect, but Vikings scouts, general manager and the coaching staff all saw something that can’t be taught: pure athleticism.
“I’ve coached linebackers a long time in this league. He has as much potential to do that, especially coming out here with the production he’s had as a rookie. From that aspect of it, he’s ahead of the curve,” said defensive coordinator George Edwards. “With his professionalism, to be able to have that at such a young age, pay attention to details, be able to do it on the practice field, do it in a game.”
“He’s as good of a rookie as I’ve had in the past at the linebacker position.”
Edwards is in his first year with the Vikings as their defensive coordinator, but he’s been either a defensive coordinator or linebackers coach in the NFL since 1998, working with the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills.
Barr spent his first two seasons at UCLA as a running back, but he offered to move over to the defensive side when the Bruins needed help there. His draft stock quickly escalated after making that move.
While Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack drew much of the predraft attention prior to the draft, Barr’s statistics and athleticism spoke for themselves.
“When professionals talk about the most athletic defensive player, Anthony Barr shines through above all the rest,” the NFL’s scouting service, NFL Draft Report (also used by Scout.com), wrote about Barr before the draft.
During his two seasons at linebacker for UCLA, Barr had 149 tackles (Mack had 194 and Clowney 94). Barr had nine forced fumbles, equaling Mack and doubling Clowney’s four forced turnovers.
Barr had 40.5 tackles for losses, with Mack at 40 and Clowney at 35. Barr had 23.5 sacks, Clowney 16 and Mack 13.5.
“He’s progressing I think as we expected him to. He’s doing well,” said defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer. “He’s a good kid, he’s still learning so much about the position that he’s playing right now and I like him because he’s not only a good athlete – he’s physical and fast and powerful – but he’s also very conscientious and wants to be very good at his job. I think he’ll continue to progress more and more and more comfortably as he gets in the system and we’ll continue to find more things for him to do. I think that at some point in time I expect him to be one of the better, better linebackers in this league. I don’t know when that will be, but I expect it to be sometime.”
The Vikings have asked a lot of Barr since his arrival at Winter Park. They have worked with him as a linebacker, both in coverage, blitzing and as a run stopper. He will also line up as an extra defensive end on occasion.
He has rarely come off the field, playing in almost 97 percent of the snaps through five weeks as a rookie. Only three players – Robert Blanton, Harrison Smith and Captain Munnerlyn, all defensive backs – have been on the field more than Barr.
“For a guy that played running back for two years in college, he played linebacker for two years in college, and then all of the sudden he comes into the NFL and it’s his third year playing linebacker, yeah, I’m really impressed with the production and the things that he’s able to accomplish at the position,” Edwards said. “He gets the most out of his ability every day and that’s what we try to get everybody to do. He comes out here, he pays attention to detail, he’ll pick up things that we’re trying to get accomplished. He’s a good match in coverage, he’s a good pass rusher. Him paying attention to the details of all the things that we’re asking him to do, to wear as many hats as he does as a rookie, from that aspect of it, I’m pretty impressed.”
Barr leads the team in tackles with 49, solo tackles with 36, is tied for second with two sacks, tied for third with two tackles for loss, sixth with three quarterback hits and has a pass defensed.
His responsibilities have been vast and his immersion and emergence fast.
“I think it’s him being more comfortable with what we’re asking him to do as far as keys, align, reads, all those types of deals,” Edwards said. “Now when the ball (is snapped) he’s not having to think quite as much. … He’s a lot more comfortable and his athleticism can come into play more.”
Coaches have high praise for highest pick
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