Lowering the Barr

By John Harris
March 20, 2014

After watching the film on Anthony Barr, John Harris outlines the struggles of the UCLA star OLB. Why has his draft stock taken a hit lately? Harris has the answer.

“But he had ten sacks this year…”

I saw this tweet this week, not just once (and I’m paraphrase-twitter-ing), “Why are people off the Anthony Barr bandwagon?”  When I saw a similar tweet on the All-American UCLA OLB more than a couple of times, I did what I always do.

I put the film on…bro.  Okay, that’s a shameless brand plug and I apologize.  (But I actually did.)

Since the USC game last year, Barr was one of the most talked about NFL prospects in the nation.  He played at a Pac-12 school.  He faced excellent competition week in and week out.  He more than looks the part.  He’s pretty, football pretty, I mean.  He’s fast.  He redirects and changes directions on a dime.  But, when I studied him closely last summer, I was left wanting more.  A whole lot more.  He was lauded for his performance against USC in which he knocked former Trojan star QB Matt Barkley out of the game with a vicious hit.  Upon further review, that highlight worthy sack was more about missed assignments and poor offensive line pass protection than it was anything Barr did or didn’t do.  Either way, there seemed to be a disconnect with what many analysts were writing and what I saw.

I even wrote this in his scouting report"

“Barr will have everybody eating out of the palm of his hand with the Underwear Olympics about to unfold over the next few months.  But, Barr, the football player, has plenty of work to do to make the transition to the next level.”

Throughout the season, there were times, I’ll admit, when I started to doubt myself a tiny bit as well known, reputable draft analysts placed him as high as the number on pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.  But, I trusted what I saw and what I was seeing during the 2013 season.  Barr finished with some solid numbers, including double digits in sacks, but “beyond the numbers” told me a different story.

Against Nevada 2013, he finished the game with two TFL and no sacks.  Why?  He didn’t do anything.  Not that he didn’t play hard.  He just couldn’t do anything at all vs. Nevada LT Joel Bitonio.  Here is my play by play chicken scratch; I’ll assess what it means below.

  • Play 1 - run play, blocked easily
  • Play 2 - three step, cut
  • Play 3 - swing pass - handled one on one
  • Play 4 - QB flushed, split B gap, got heat - essentially no one blocked him
  • Play 5 - No one blocks him, runs zone read down from behind for 2 yd gain
  • Play 6 - Run play, Bitonio handles him
  • Play 7 - Zone read, QB runs to him, can’t stop him for TFL
  • Play 8 - TE blocks him on inside zone
  • Play 9 - Pass Play - Bitonio handles him one-on-one
  • Play 10 - Run play - Bitonio mashes him
  • Play 11 - Pulling guard engages, play away from him
  • Play 12 - Drops in coverage
  • Play 13 - Pass rush, chipped by TE, no factor
  • Play 14 - Blocked inside, although he’s contain player on zone read
  • Play 15 - Drops in coverage
  • Play 16 - Bitonio cuts him on 3 step
  • Play 17 - Best pass rush on 3rd and six, bursts hard upfield, uses rip under and forces QB to move
  • Play 18 - Turned inside by TE on zone run toward him
  • Play 19 - Unblocked, gets shoulders turned, QB pulls it runs for big gain
  • Play 20 - Lines up in space, inside run
  • Play 21 - 4th and 1 - TE blocks on, doesn’t disengage
  • Play 22 - TE blocks on, finally shucks him, forces RB to help
  • Play 23 - Not blocked, fade route - no factor
  • Play 24 - Goalline - Bitonio blocks on, knocks him into the end zone
  • Play 25 - Drops in coverage, jumps wrong WR
  • Play 26 - Best play of night, slips pulling guard and fullback for TFL
  • Play 27 - Rushes on pass play, not even blocked, nothing
  • Play 28 - Bitonio blocks on - stones him on inside run
  • Play 29 - Slips Bitonio, barely, on run away from him
  • Play 30 - Cut block attempt, Barr evades it, harasses throw slightly.
  • Play 31 - Bitonio stoned Barr on pass rush
  • Play 32 - Used spin move and Bitonio stoned him on pass rush
  • Play 33 - Stabbed Bitonio then spun, not a factor as Bitonio does nice job again.
  • Play 34 - Bitonio again stoned his initial rush, very physical with him
  • Play 35 - Quick throw
  • Play 36 - Pass, threw stab under Bitonio chin, still stoned at point of attack. can’t disengage
  • Play 37 - Same as previous play, QB hurried from interior
  • Play 38 - Counter at him, takes on pulling guard and makes a tackle for short yardage
  • Play 39 - Pass, Bitonio stoned him
  • Play 40 - Cut on three step
  • Play 41 - Cut again on three step
  • Play 42 - Run away from him, unblocked, no factor
  • Play 43 - Cut again on three step
  • Play 44 - DOES. NOTHING. Stoned again by Bitonio
  • Play 45 - Stoned on pass rush by Bitonio again
  • Play 46 - TE blocks on, Barr spins and makes his TFL
  • Play 47 - Starts rush, redirects to back out of the backfield on swing route

During the entire night, I’d say play No. 46 was his best play of the night, a tackle for a loss when he spun away from the tight end, avoided the H-back and tackled the running back for a two yard loss.  But, look at how many times I wrote “stoned”, “handled” or “mashed.”  Those feats accomplished by a left tackle that was good, not great, at the Senior Bowl.  Now, trust me, Nevada is a tough team to prepare for as an edge player, but there were plenty of times that Barr had opportunities to make plays once UCLA had a lead and forced Nevada to the air.

Then I charted the Stanford game.  A more traditional offense but with a physical front and backs.

  • Play 1 - buries tackle playing TE, best play I’ve seen in two games on 3rd and one.
  • Play 2 - TE blocked on, can’t disengage on isolation run
  • Play 3 - Play action, dropped in coverage
  • Play 4 - One on one with first year starter Andrus Peat on pass rush - stoned.
  • Play 5 - Unblocked, ran up field forced bad toss on shovel pass underneath him
  • Play 6 - Rushed past Peat upfield on middle screen to RB underneath
  • Play 7 - Zone lead at him, FB kicks him out, doesn’t disengage
  • Play 8 - Ran upfield out of control on zone read, missed tackle
  • Play 9 - Dropped in coverage on pass, lost sight of WR, completed behind him
  • Play 10 - Dropped in coverage on pass, sprinted over to help on tackle
  • Play 11 - Initially stoned on upfield rush by Peat, helped by Yankey
  • Play 12 - Lined up in space, run lead at him, again FB kicks him out easily
  • Play 13 - TE blocked on, knocked him eight yards off the ball, never disengaged
  • Play 14 - Good read here, saw RB flare out for screen, then missed the tackle after throw
  • Play 15 - Power play, FB kicked him out again, technically it’s fine, but not getting off blocks to make plays
  • Play 16 - 3rd and five run play, avoided TE, not a factor on play
  • Play 17 - Quick throw
  • Play 18 - 3rd and one - driven back three yards
  • Play 19 - TE stunt, bull rushed center and knocked him back into QB, plus play (barely)
  • Play 20 - Peat lost feet as Barr used hands to get inside to harass QB, plus play
  • Play 21 - TE stunt again, C was in better shape, Barr still bull rushed to force QB to move
  • Play 22 - T dressed up as TE handled him at point of attack on inside run
  • Play 23 - Power play, tried to avoid FB this time and run around him, RB darts inside then out for good gain
  • Play 24 - Dropped in coverage
  • Play 25 - BEST play by far, redirected on a reverse for big TFL, plus play
  • Play 26 - Power again, T dressed up as TE buried him again
  • Play 27 - Speed upfield forced Peat to lose his balance, redirected inside, C helped on him
  • Play 28 - TE hit and released, Peat doesn’t have much of a chance as ball ran right into Barr
  • Play 29 - Best play all day v. Power, slipped inside “fake” TE block and makes tackle
  • Play 30 - Perfect example of Barr, when engaged, he’s cooked but once he freed himself, he ran to ball for tackle
  • Play 31 - Power right at him, FB got under his chin and stoned him
  • Play 32 - Isolation, Peat tried to get him upfield, he didn’t bite, so Peat then handled him for big Stanford gain.
  • Play 33 - Finally used his hands to violently to get loose on Power

There’s much more game film to study, but here are a couple of things that stand out in just these two games, consistent with Barr’s entire season.  Barr is hardly ever doubled.  Not initially and rarely during the play.  Many people see a great player’s numbers go down and instantly the thought is, "Well, Team A is doubling him on every play.”  Not the case for Barr.

Not once in two games was he doubled and seldom was he even chipped by a RB.  He didn’t produce one sack in these two games.  He did force the QB to move once, maybe, in the Stanford game, but of the 80+ plays in these two games, not one sack.  His two best pass rush plays were on T/E stunts.  Take the numbers away.

How often was Barr shut down with little impact?  Often.  How often did Barr get off a block and make a tackle?  Not often.  When Barr wasn’t blocked how effective was he?  Very.  Will this happen at the next level?  Nah.

I spared you the “play-by-play” during the Oregon game, but even as he registered two sacks against the Ducks, he wasn’t blow you away impressive.  He whipped Oregon LT Tyler Johnstone with impressive speed on the first series for a strip sack and Oregon QB Marcus Mariota ran right into him when Barr was blocked for the other.  Johnstone consistently whipped Barr’s spin move and rarely needed much help throughout the day as he handled the Pac-12’s star pass rusher.

Had Barr declared early in 2012, he probably would’ve gone third over Dion Jordan to Miami in what many thought was a weak draft.  But this draft isn’t quite that way.  Barr’s athleticism is attractive, but Buffalo’s Khalil Mack has athleticism and nasty and a full complement of “wrecking shop” skills.

South Carolina edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney is freakish and he DID get doubled/chipped most of the season.  With three top QBs, a couple of solid prospects at tackle and the aforementioned edge rushing freaks, Barr should fall behind them due to the problems outlined above.  If it’s been a little shocking to see Barr’s name take a hit lately, now you know -- if you didn’t already, of course.