By BBD Writer Eric Samulski
Despite all the money that the Bills paid this offseason on their pass rush, they’re still unable to generate any on a consistent basis. Getting use out of the linebacker position might also be one of the key concerns for Buffalo this offseason. As one of the worst units in the NFL, the Bills linebacking corps has missed tackles, blown coverage assignments, and cost the team more games this year than any year in the past. The solution might come in the form of one man: Anthony Barr.
Possesses a new breed of athleticism to stick with tight ends
Many of the best linebackers in the game today are either converted defensive ends or otherwise possess an athleticism that was never previously associated with the position. Barr is a no-brained addition to that list. At 6’4” 235 pounds, with reported 4.6 speed, Barr can get off the edge in a hurry.
With the right coaching, he can also use that athleticism to run with the more athletic tight ends in the NFL. This is only his first season at linebacker, after converting from fullback, so in order to judge his coverage skills fairly, we need to look more at his progress than his overall ability. So far he’s shown the ability to change directions quickly, but the proper footwork is still lacking, so he can find himself a step or two behind a receiver. However, having Jim Mora as a coach won’t hurt his development. He knows the NFL game and how to prepare Barr to be successful at the next level.
Has a knack for getting into the backfield
This season, Barr has been able to translate his speed and impressive motor into a slew of game-changing tackles. He’s tied for 11th in the country with 8.5 sacks, three additional quarterback hurries, and has also notched 14 total tackles for a loss. More significantly, after only playing one year as a defender, he has a solid array of pass rushing moves and doesn’t simply get by using a speed rush. Remember that when the Broncos drafted Von Miller, everybody was praising him for his pass-rushing prowess and believed that he was merely a pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker. If Barr can prove solid in coverage then his pass-rushing abilities can make him a real impact player.
A solid tackler and a smart defender
Partially because of his experience as a fullback, Barr has a good understanding of running lanes and how to find holes in a defense. It seems as though he’s been able to parlay that information into becoming a real defensive stopper. He has 46 total tackles, an impressive number for a player who many consider to be simply a pass-rusher. Additionally, when he gets his hands on a running back, he wraps up solidly and very rarely misses tackles. This has been another area where he’s proven to be opportunistic, forcing three fumbles already on the year.
Overall, Barr has the type of athleticism to be a real difference maker in any system. Since he’s so new to the position, he’s a little bit harder to evaluate, but his initial skill set is intriguing enough to draw serious interest. If his coverage abilities continue to improve, Barr could become a solid option at the back half of the first round.
Editor’s Note: The stats in the article above are based on games player prior to this weekend. For those interested last night v. Washington State Anthony Barr registered 8 tackles, 3 TFL, and 2.5 sacks.