Former WR/RB Barr takes his transition to the highest level, the NFL
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - When a team yearning for help at linebacker selects one in the top-10 picks of the NFL Draft, you wouldn't expect the draft choice to go relatively unnoticed.
That is, unless the team also craves a quarterback and takes one later in the same round.
That appears to be the case for the Vikings and their top draft picks, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater.
The most vocal reactors on our website and on Twitter regarded the pick as a reach because Barr is seen as a "project." He might be a project, but I'd wager most, including myself, don't know enough about Barr's college days or his future ceiling in the NFL to judge the pick as a lousy one or as a great one.
Several years after, it is fair to judge drafting Christian Ponder as a poor decision. Several dozen hours, however, is not enough time to assess one draft choice that Rick Spielman and the Vikings' staff spent hundreds of hours preparing for. There's an imbalance of information.
Barr, for his part, hopes to prove at the next level that Spielman's gamble was well worth it.
Some consider the UCLA product a project, because he played defense for only two seasons with the Bruins. He switched to linebacker his junior season after a freshman year spent as a receiver and a sophomore campaign as a running back.
Head coach Mike Zimmer and his son, linebackers coach, Adam Zimmer, will have a big say in whether Barr pans out.
"I had a good meeting with coach Adam Zimmer, the linebackers coach," Barr said Friday, recalling his pre-draft visit to Minnesota. "We watched some tape, watched some of the stuff that he runs, some of my tape and just had a good conversation. I think our personalities fit well and I think he is going to be a great coach for me."
Barr also recognizes he's raw, and that it will take work to become a polished product in the NFL.
He said technique is "definitely an area I need to improve on."
"I think these are very technical coaches, very detail-oriented, I'm a very detail-oriented guy myself, so I'm looking forward to getting with these guys and improving my game."
Neither Spielman nor Zimmer would say anything to criticize the team's first pick. Hearing each talk about the linebacker, though, it sounds like they agree he has the athleticism to be a great pass rusher (Spielman said he believes Barr can be the best pass rusher from this draft, after Jadeveon Clowney); both Spielman and Zimmer agree it will take some work to get there.
"With Anthony, he is a tremendous, tremendous athlete," Zimmer said. "We were extremely impressed with him when he was here, but more importantly we're impressed with him on his tape. The athletic ability that he has is really off of the charts, he's a great rusher and we're going to help him to continue to be a really, really good football player."
Mike Zimmer said that Adam Zimmer had a phone conversation with Barr, in which Barr recalled conversations and terms used in talks from their previous meeting. That impressed, likely, because Barr had meetings with other teams and could have been flooded with new information during the draft courting process.
Barr shrugged it off as ordinary.
"I think I'm a pretty intelligent person. I understand the game of football," Barr said. "I think some of the coverages really stuck with me because we had such a good conversation."
That will bode well for both parties as they navigate together the journey from toolsy college linebacker picked ninth to contributing force in the NFL. His fellow first round pick may have more pressure by virtue of his position but Barr, too, will have plenty to prove.