Craig: Superlatives roll about LB Barr's natural talents

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 9, 2014 - 10:47 AM

Within an hour of drafting UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr ninth overall, the Vikings mentioned him in the same sentences with Jason Taylor, Chris Doleman and Von Miller.

For those keeping score, that’s a future Hall of Famer, a current Hall of Famer and the 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

That’s the kind of ceiling placed on a guy when he’s 6-5, 255 pounds, runs a 4.47 40-yard dash and completes the three-cone agility drill faster than any of the cornerbacks at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

“You can’t coach what this guy has,” Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said. “It’s the same conversation we had last year with Cordarrelle Patterson.”

Oh yeah, did we mention they also compared him to last year’s raw athlete-turned-rookie-All-Pro-kick-returner?

Unlike former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who didn’t utilize Patterson until the Vikings season was kaput, Spielman sounds confident that head coach/defensive mastermind Mike Zimmer will maximize Barr’s rare abilities. The new coach sounded like the wheels in his head started turning long ago.

“I’ve never had a linebacker that has the size and the speed and all the things this guy has,” said Zimmer, who spent 20 seasons as an NFL defensive assistant, including the past 14 as a coordinator of multiple top-10 defenses.

Although Barr has played linebacker for only two seasons, he’ll start at strong-side linebacker in a role Zimmer said compares to Miller’s role in Denver. Chad Greenway will be on the field with Barr, but Zimmer wouldn’t elaborate on where or how he’ll be used.

“Chad can play anywhere,” Zimmer said. “But I don’t want to let Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit know what we’re doing. I’m going to let them try to figure that out.”

Now, here are the knee-jerk reactions from Thursday night’s top-10 picks. We’ll revisit these a week before next year’s draft (ouch):

1. Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Knee-jerk: Yeah, he’s a once-in-a-generation physical freak. But does he want to do all it takes to be great? Based on last fall, it doesn’t appear he does. Houston, you have a problem player.

2. Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Knee-jerk: Had Jake Matthews going here in Thursday’s mock, but this will be a better offensive tackle selection. This kid and those 35-inch arms and giant frame will dominate.

3. Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

Knee-jerk: The first wow moment of a wow round. And we thought the Jaguars reached too high for Blaine Gabbert at No. 10 three years ago. Can you really redshirt a raw player when you pick him No. 3? Expectations just became too unrealistic for Bortles.

4. Bills (trade with Browns): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

Knee-jerk: Special size and speed will make him the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and Buffalo’s No. 1 receiver.

5. Raiders: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

Knee-jerk: At the risk of complimenting the Raiders on a smart draft-day move, this is a solid pick.

6. Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Knee-jerk: It was time for the skill-position-rich Falcons to invest in the offensive line. Getting the second-best tackle and having the added security of knowing he comes from a Hall of Fame bloodline is a safe pick at the perfect time.

7. Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Knee-jerk: Bucs get a much-needed receiver who will contribute right away.

8. Browns (trade with Vikings): Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

Knee-jerk: Gilbert not only has the size and speed, but the ball skills, instincts, hands and everything else Chris Cook lacked in four years with the Vikings. This will be the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Will the Vikings regret not taking this guy?

9. Vikings (trade with Browns): Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

Knee-jerk: The Vikings should have taken Gilbert for a defense that blew five leads in the final minute of regulation. That being said, Barr will be a special, versatile toy that Zimmer will maximize. He’ll start right away at a position of need, so it’s a good pick. But Gilbert will have a better rookie season.

10. Lions: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

Knee-jerk: The Lions had their eye on Barr but came back with a pick that will make their offense even more dangerous. The best tight end in the draft is paired with Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson. That’s a lot to defend. Good pick.

Bonus pick

32. Vikings (trade with Seahawks): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Knee-jerk: A really good place to get a potential franchise quarterback without the pressure of having to start him before he’s ready.

 

Mark Craig mark.craig@startribune.com

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