NFL Nation mock: Why I picked OLB Barr

May, 7, 2014
May 7
8:00
AM ET
PITTSBURGH -- Yep, I was that guy.

The first one who prompted ESPN draft analyst Matt Williamson to really tsk-tsk a pick in the ESPN NFL Nation mock draft conducted Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Barr can bolster the Steelers' pass rush, but the former running back needs seasoning at linebacker.
And I have to imagine that what Williamson typed was much more diplomatic than what came out of his mouth when the former NFL scout saw I had picked UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr for the Steelers at No. 15.

Let me preface my selection by saying that I tried trading down in the first round, something I think the Steelers will attempt to do Thursday night.

I thought I had a deal with Jets writer Rich Cimini when he inquired whether I would swap spots with him in exchange for two fourth-round picks. That would have been ideal as I would have only had to move from No. 15 to No. 18 while pocketing a pair of extra picks in a deep draft.

Unfortunately, Rich let the draft come to him. When it became clear that he would have his pick of a couple of players he liked at No. 18 he pulled the offer.

At least I could take comfort that my demand for a breakfast buffet in the press box when the Steelers visit the Jets this season hadn't been the deal-breaker.

In the end, I only received one trade offer, and 49ers writer Bill Williamson dangling a host of picks -- though none in the first round -- wasn't enough for me to seriously consider.

First-round picks are gold to the Steelers and no way could I give this one up, no matter how deep this draft is.

LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller were still on the board when the Steelers were up at No. 15. And believe me, I strongly considered each player.

But I hadn't anticipated Barr being there as well.

In the end I couldn't pass on a player who could bolster the Steelers' pass rush as well as provide immediate depth at a position where they sorely need it.

Nothing will help the Steelers' defense regain its swagger more than if they add some teeth to their pass rush. Only five teams had less sacks than the 34 the Steelers managed in 2013.

And the outside linebackers on the Steelers' roster have a combined 24 career sacks -- one-half more than what Barr produced in his final two seasons at UCLA, where he didn't exactly play against intramural teams in pads.

Barr didn't record any sacks his first two years in Westwood, and there is a good reason for that: He played running back.

After growing two inches, the 6-5, 255-pounder moved to outside linebacker before his junior season, and he promptly dominated. Barr's 13 1/2 sacks in 2012 were second in the country only to Jarvis Jones, the Steelers' first-round pick last year.

He is still a baby at his position, which makes Barr far from a finished product. Let him learn the position from new defensive assistant Joey Porter, who is fifth on the Steelers' all-time sacks list with 60. Let him improve his strength, something Jones has had to do after his first NFL season.

In the meantime, Barr can provide depth behind Jones and Jason Worilds, and contribute on special teams as well as a situational pass rusher.

There are no guarantees with Worilds as there is a question as to whether the Steelers are committed to him beyond 2014. That uncertainty makes outside linebacker as pressing a need as any that the Steelers have.

They need to groom a possible replacement for Worilds. The Steelers also need to help a defense that has 20 interceptions in the last two seasons combined -- one less than they had in 2010 -- create more turnovers by collapsing pockets.

And they can never have enough outside linebackers, which is as important as any position on their defense.

Some see Barr as a player who is not instinctual and not strong enough against the run. I see a player who has a knack for getting after the quarterback and has a high ceiling.

If he is willing to work there may be no better situation for Barr than the Steelers.

He can learn from Porter, learn from linebackers coach Keith Butler, learn from defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau -- and he doesn't have to be rushed into the starting lineup.

If Barr slips to the Steelers in the first round, and they don't trade down, they should take him.

The draft is exceptionally deep at wide receiver. It is also strong as cornerback.

Address those positions later in the draft and go with a player who has a chance to be a real difference maker on a defense that desperately needs more of them.

Scott Brown

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter

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