When Minnesota went on the clock at No. 9 in the draft last spring, Johnny Manziel was sitting right there for the quarterback-starved team, and some in the purple-clad fan base were clamoring for the exciting Texas A&M star to save the Vikings.
Minnesota liked Manziel as well, and even envisioned him as its quarterback of the future. But the Vikings loved linebacker Anthony Barr, a converted running back from UCLA with athleticism to burn who had only played the position for two years.
Barr ended up being the selection, and though many said the Vikings were walking out on a shaky limb at the time, they never hesitated. Eight games into his rookie season, Barr is quickly emerging as a dynamic playmaker and building block for the future.
“What his abilities are just fit the scheme perfectly because he can do so many things well,” veteran linebacker Chad Greenway said Monday. “If you draft him and stick him at defensive end or stick him at linebacker all the time, it doesn’t give him range to kind of do everything he’s good at. The scheme’s a great fit for him. He’s playing well, obviously, and not just on the last play. He’s playing good football throughout the four quarters.”
The last play that Greenway referenced was Barr’s game-winning trifecta on Sunday in Tampa.
After the Vikings (3-5) gave up a late touchdown drive to the lowly Buccaneers that helped force overtime, Barr chased down tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, stripped the ball and took it back 27 yards for a touchdown to clinch the 19-13 victory.
The play saved the team from what would have been a disastrous loss. It hosts the struggling Washington Redskins on Sunday with a chance to get to 4-5 and stay relevant going into its bye week.
“I’ve seen Coach smile for the first time in a couple weeks,” Barr said, “so that’s a good sign.”
Coach Mike Zimmer said Barr’s short history of playing linebacker has helped him avoid picking up bad habits.
“He’s very, very talented, but I think the thing I love the most about him is the way he studies when we’re in here in meetings,” Zimmer said. “He takes a lot of notes. He’s very prideful about not making the same mistake twice and he continues to get better. He wants to be very, very good.”
And just as the questions about Barr’s impact started to pile up on Monday, Zimmer tried to let a little air out of the balloon.
“It’s only been eight games for Anthony,” the coach said. “We’ll hold on the Canton votes for a while.”
His teammates aren’t shy about showing Barr the love, either.
“Early in his career he’s already made a bunch of huge plays for us and that’s always great to have a young guy that’s going to be an up-and-coming star in this league,” veteran defensive end Brian Robison said. “To do the things he’s been doing has just been awesome for our defense.”
After the Vikings drafted Barr, they tried to trade back up into the first round to get Manziel. The Cleveland Browns outbid the Vikings to get him at No. 22, but Manziel has yet to play a snap this season.
The Vikings grabbed Teddy Bridgewater at No. 32, and on Sunday the rookie quarterback calmly led a two-minute drive for the tying field goal.
That put Barr in position to win it in overtime, ending an ugly three-game losing streak and giving the Vikings hope that with Bridgewater under center and Barr on defense, they have found two cornerstones to build on.
“I think I’m pretty versatile and I think this defense definitely allows me to line up in different areas and use my talents in a positive way to help the team win games,” Barr said. “I’m just going to continue to build on what we have.”
Barr showing many skills with Vikings
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