Vikings’ 25 and under top 10: Anthony Barr

The Vikings took a bit of a risk drafting Anthony Barr but were rewarded with high-level play on the field.

Last year the Minnesota Vikings drafted outside linebacker Anthony Barr with the No. 9 overall pick. He was a high-risk, high-reward player because he had only played linebacker for two years at UCLA after switching from the offensive side of the ball. Even when he did switch to defense he still mostly only rushed off the edge in the Bruins’ 3-4 system.

Barr was clearly a freak athlete with a ton of potential, but it was hard to tell how quickly he would be able to refine his skills so he could play linebacker in the NFL. And the fact that the Vikings played in a 4-3 defensive scheme versus a 3-4 scheme was more worrisome because it meant that Barr would be asked to do a lot more things – such as drop back into coverage – that he didn’t often have to do at the college level.

The Vikings still decided to take a risk on him, and after his rookie year it seems as though the team made the right decision. Since he first arrived for offseason workouts, the coaching staff praised his work ethic, capacity to learn and would say he was picking up all the concepts they asked of him.

That continued into the preseason and regular season, when Barr found a lot of success and was considered to be in contention for Defensive Rookie of the Year. In the 12 games that he played, Barr recorded 70 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries – one which was returned for a game-winning touchdown in overtime – and three passes defensed.

Unfortunately, Barr’s success was cut short during his rookie season because of a knee injury that put him on injured reserve. That injury has caused some concern because he was held out of workouts early this offseason already, but the coaching staff said it was not the same injury that ended his season prematurely in 2014.

There were a lot of things that the 6-foot-5, 255-pound linebacker did well during his rookie season, but there also things he still needs to improve. The biggest thing is his pass coverage, especially while in zone coverage. He would do well if the receiver was right in front of him but could miss plays that he should have made if the receiver was off to his side.

Pass coverage wasn’t something Barr had to worry about while at UCLA since he was usually rushing the passer – this skill is still a work-in-progress. It should continue to develop as he gets more experience and his natural athletic ability should help him improve quickly.

Barr was the very first pick of the Mike Zimmer era in Minnesota so you know the coaching staff is very high on him and is going to want to keep him around as long as they possibly can. He will likely be a cornerstone piece in this defense for years to come and should continue to make plays all over the field.

Since he has the unique ability to change the course of a game with a single play while playing on the defensive side of the ball, it really hurts the Vikings when he is not on the field. Last year, Gerald Hodges filled in during the last four games when Barr was out with injury. He played very well and would likely be the player to replace Barr if he were to go down with injury once again. But you know the coaching staff would prefer to have Barr out there creating havoc for the offense.

Barr is only entering into the second year of his four-year rookie contract (with a fifth-year option) so there are still a few years to go before anyone needs to worry about getting Barr a long-term deal. Right now, the only things that Barr should be concerning himself with are continuing to develop and staying healthy for all 16 games of the regular season.

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