Like Bridgewater, the Vikings have not yet anointed Barr as a starter. But the hope inside Winter Park and the expectation outside is that Barr will line up on the field for the first defensive snap of 2014. Predicting exactly where he lines up could prove to be more difficult.
“I have this vision on how I want to use this guy and I don’t want to tell Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit,” Zimmer said. “I want to let them try and figure that out at some point.”
Zimmer said he has never coached a player who had a blend of size and speed like Barr, and the Vikings plan to use Barr as a strong-side linebacker in their 4-3 base defense with veteran Chad Greenway filling one of the two other linebacker spots.
Zimmer hinted that Barr’s role could be similar to how the Broncos use outside linebacker Von Miller, the 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year who has 35 sacks in 40 career games. Miller is a 4-3 outside linebacker who often lines up as an edge rusher on passing downs and uses his flexibility to bend around offensive tackles and his speed to take down the quarterback. Miller also drops into coverage at times, something Barr will also do.
And while Barr played linebacker for only two years at UCLA, CBS Sports draft analyst Dane Brugler thinks that athleticism makes him worth the risk.
“Barr’s best football is ahead of him and projects as an impact edge rusher, whether he’s standing up as a strong-side linebacker, putting his hand on the ground at defensive end or a hybrid version of both,” Brugler said. “Barr needs to prove he’s more than just a one-trick pony and grasp defensive concepts, but he adapted quickly to the defensive side of the ball.”
Beyond special teams, the impact that the rest of this draft class has on the 2014 Vikings could be more subtle.
Zimmer likes to rotate several defensive linemen to keep them fresh so they can put quarterbacks under duress, but Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton joins a crowded position group that includes Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Corey Wootton. Barr’s presence will factor in as well.
Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon, picked after Crichton in the third round, is an athletic triple-option triggerman turned traditional tailback, so he could face a steep learning curve as he competes for carries behind Adrian Peterson and tries to carve out a third-down role.
Stanford guard David Yankey, a fifth-round pick, could battle for one of the starting guard spots.
The secondary was an area of need after the Vikings ranked 31st in pass defense in 2013, but can any of the three late-round defensive backs help this season?
Regardless, this class will be judged on both the immediate and long-term contributions that Bridgewater and Barr make, specifically Bridgewater. If the Vikings found their franchise quarterback, anything else from the rest of the class would be a bonus.
“Of course,” Spielman said. “You’re always going to be judged by the quarterback ... no matter how many Pro Bowlers and young guys you get.”