Perhaps the biggest story line in the linebacker department during the Combine was the debate over Anthony Barr vs. Khalil Mack.
Buffalo’s Mack was the more consistent and productive player during a four-year, three-time All-MAC career. Barr, on the other hand, is a converted running back with only two years of experience on defense. In Barr’s defense, those two seasons produced game film of a pass rusher with athleticism and serious game speed, the kind of skill set that has him within range of the draft’s top 10 this year.
With the draft weeks away, the Barr-Mack debate will continue on. Barr readily admitted last week that he’s raw, but he’ll grow into the kind of threat a team won’t regret taking a chance on.
“(Playing linebacker is) still new to me,” Barr said at the Combine last week. “I think if a team gets me, if they like what they see, they’ll love what they’ll get because I’m just going to continue to develop and continue to get better.”
Barr said UCLA’s defense had him dropping into coverage about 30 percent of the time last season and that’s an area of his game that needs improving. He considers himself an unfinished product and admitted that his tackling can improve as well. As with many players in an NFL Draft, Barr has the potential to become a feared pass rusher, he just has to realize it. His measurables from the Combine hint it’s possible.
The 6-foot-5 linebacker ran a 4.66 40 and was a top performer in the 3-cone drill with a 6.82 time. He performed well in the field drills and while there’s some concern about his strength (15 reps on the bench press), there’s a sense that he can get stronger since he’s still developing as a player.
Barr was named first-team All-American after his senior season and was named to the second team as a junior. He followed up his 13.5 sack, 21.5 tackles for loss 2012 season with 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss in 2013. While Barr is raw in many of the necessary linebacker areas, what he brings to the team that drafts him in May is a speedy pass rusher that can find backfields in a hurry. His ceiling as a three-down linebacker in the NFL will be based on his coaching staff and how hard he works to maximize his abilities.