In a draft full of divisive players -- good luck finding two evaluators who agree on how high Johnny Manziel will go or how good he's going to be -- Anthony Barr has generated as much debate as anyone.
Once considered a lock of a top-five pick, an outside linebacker as talented as Buffalo's Khalil Mack only bigger, Barr's stock has fluctuated to the point that no one knows where he'll land in the first round.
The Lions at No. 10 could be an option. As Martin Mayhew affirmed Monday, they need help at outside linebacker. Respected NFL writer Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times slotted Barr, a UCLA product, to Tampa Bay at No.7 in his latest mock draft. Other NFL analysts think he could slip into the 20s.
"I still have kind of a fringe first-/second-round grade on him," ESPN analyst Todd McShay said in a conference call last week. "I like him. . . . I don't want to give the impression I don't like him, I just don't think he's as good as maybe where he's projected to go. I've seen recently and talked to people recently that said, 'No, he's a top 10 pick.' That's a reach. And I think you're taking a big gamble."
The difference in opinion on Barr stems from his rare athletic ability and All-America production -- he had 231/2 sacks the last two years, or half a sack fewer than the draft's most talented player, Jadeveon Clowney, had in his three-year college career -- coupled with his relative newness to the position.
Barr missed most of his senior year of high school with a broken ankle. A little-used running back his first two seasons at UCLA, Barr switched to defense before the 2012 season and emerged as one of the best pass rushers in the country.
He had 131/2 sacks in 14 games as a junior and 10 more this past year.
McShay said his lower grade on Barr is a reflection of his lack of refinement as a linebacker. Barr is "close to a one-trick pony as a pass rusher," McShay said, someone who relies too much on his speed rush and isn't strong enough with his take-on skills at the line of scrimmage.
Others, like NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, said Barr is versatile enough to play outside linebacker or end in a 4-3 scheme and defend him as "one of the top edge rushers in the draft."
Barr, to his credit, acknowledged at the NFL combine in February that he's far from a finished product.
"Shedding blocks, defending the run, using my hands, I think those things are still new to me, things I'm still working on," he said. "If I continue to work on it, I think I'll be able to perfect those."
The son of former Philadelphia Eagles and Notre Dame running back Tony Brooks who was raised by his mother, Lisa Barr, Barr said his transition to linebacker has been "pretty smooth" overall. He dropped into pass coverage about 30 percent of the time at UCLA but was used mostly as an edge rusher the last two years.
"Difficult at first," he said. "I think moving backward, going back in coverage, was something that was new to me. But now I feel comfortable with that."
In recent months, the Lions have spent plenty of time trying to get comfortable with Barr and other pass-rushing linebacker prospects as they look to diversify their defense.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin intends to blitz more this year, and coach Jim Caldwell said in March he's looking for a "flamethrower" to rush the passer from the linebacker position.
Mayhew traveled to Los Angeles to meet with Barr and attend his pro day at the start of free agency in March, and at 6-feet-5 and 255 pounds Barr has the size and length the Lions like at the position.
Mayhew insisted the Lions' need at outside linebacker isn't any more acute than it is at other positions, but in a draft thin on pass rushers the Lions might need to take one early or risk missing out on help at the position altogether.
"There's some good players that can rush the passer," Mayhew said. "It's about the one that you get though, isn't it? I mean, we can talk about how deep (the edge rusher class) is, but if they all go in a run in the second round, it really doesn't matter. It's about locating a guy. If you can locate a guy that can impact and help you, whether it's in the fourth round, sixth round, seventh round, free agent, then you want to locate that guy. And that guy can play for you, so we're trying to locate that guy right now."
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