Hartman: Vikings GM Spielman kept eye on Barr for quite a while

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 9, 2014 - 9:01 AM

The Vikings GM was impressed with the UCLA linebacker after a superb game against Washington last year.

The Vikings’ first-round pick of UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr was no surprise to me, since the word around the NFL was that General Manager Rick Spielman and company became impressed with him last season when they watched the 6-4, 255-pounder put on a defensive show against Washington with seven tackles and a sack.

Those impressions remained with Spielman. The word is that Barr, who during his only two seasons at linebacker after earlier playing fullback with the Bruins, made 149 tackles and 23½ sacks while have to carry a big load for the 10-3 Bruins.

Compare Barr’s tackle totals with that of No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, the South Carolina defensive end who went to Houston and had 94 tackles over his past two seasons, or Khalil Mack, the Buffalo outside linebacker who went fifth to the Raiders and had 194 tackles. Barr also had 41.5 tackles for loss, while Mack had 40 and Clowney had 35.

Spielman made it clear that defense, and not a quarterback, would be the theme of the 2014 draft, with plenty of quality quarterbacks to pick from in the later rounds of the draft. Contrary to what some media outlets predicted, there was no plan to take a quarterback early because when you finish near the bottom of the league and lose five games in the final minutes, it is pretty obvious you need help on defense.

The Vikings eventually traded up into the final pick of the first round, selecting Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

The lessons of a similar draft in 2012 — which had a number of high-profile, first-round quarterbacks — came in the third round when the Seattle Seahawks grabbed Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson at 75th overall and the Philadelphia Eagles selected Nick Foles 88th overall out of Arizona.

The Vikings had six quarterbacks ranked on their board, and they offered Seattle a second- and fourth-round pick (Nos. 40 and 108 overall) to move up to No. 32 and grab Bridgewater — at one time touted by some draft analysts as a possible No. 1 overall pick — who they hope will have success similar to Wilson or Foles.

Wilson, of course, has become one of the best quarterbacks in the league and won the Super Bowl last season. Wilson threw for 3,357 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions last year — three more TDs than Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, the 2012 No. 1 overall pick, threw for in his second season. Foles was statistically the best quarterback in the NFL with a 119.2 rating, passing for 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions.

The past few drafts have proved that great quarterbacks can be available at any time.

Negative for Colts bid

Colts owner Jim Irsay is battling, along with potential host cities Minneapolis and New Orleans, to win the 2018 Super Bowl for Indianapolis.

In mid-March, Irsay was stopped by police in Carmel, just north of Indianapolis. He admitted to possessing several prescription medications and also had over $29,000 in cash and was jailed.

Irsay was later charged with drunken driving and four counts of felony drug possession.

One wonders if Irsay’s recent trouble with the police will have an effect on the Colts’ bid, and whether the problem will cause owners to instead vote for New Orleans or Minneapolis.

As far as the Vikings, they lack a prominent NFL official pushing Minnesota’s bid like Jim Finks did to get the owners’ votes for the 1991 Super Bowl.

In talking to owners after that favorable 1991 vote, I learned that despite a great presentation by local business people, it was Finks — the former general manager of the Vikings who was the Saints GM by that time — who was able to get the votes necessary to have the Super Bowl here. In fact, Finks called me about a week before that 1991 Super Bowl vote and said he had the votes for Minnesota.

Jottings

• After being a healthy scratch in Game 3 against the Wild, Eden Prairie native and Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy will be back in the lineup for Game 4, according to the Chicago Tribune. Leddy told CSN Chicago that he’s using his benching in Game 3 as motivation: “I think any competitor would get ticked at that. But that was a coach’s decision, and I think for me, as a player, I know I have to be better. It’s definitely a huge learning experience; definitely a big wake-up call.”

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