With every successful football team, there’s a breakout star that destroys the competition, bursting onto the national scene and causing a ruckus in NFL draft boards.
And at the end of every season, that player contemplates forgoing his senior year (if he isn’t already a senior) and declaring for next year’s NFL draft. That wouldn’t be complete, however, without a full-blown #OneMoreYear campaign on Twitter, Facebook, you name it.
UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr finds himself in such a position.
The junior linebacker was on the path to becoming a virtual unknown, buried in the Bruins’ logjam at running back before switching to the defensive side of the ball, where Jim Mora and company found him a solid fit at linebacker.
His first year on the defensive side of the ball, and Barr became hell for opposing backfields.
Defensively, there’s not a damn thing Barr does terribly as a linebacker. Run support? Check. Pass rushing? Check. Dropping back into coverage? Check. Shutting down Stanford’s linebackers two games in a row? Check.
And as a result of his abilities, his raw athleticism, his evolved ability to play the position, Mel Kiper of ESPN now has Barr as the 13th-best prospect on his Big Board. Four months of playing linebacker, and Barr, all of a sudden, is a top-15 pick.
Of course, UCLA fans would like to ignore all this. Because, unbelievably, Bruins fans have only got to see this kid’s true potential unleashed for merely one year. He’s too raw, they’ll say. He needs to develop further at the position, they’ll tell you. He can be a top-3 pick in 2014, they insist.
Barr needs to stay in Westwood for one more year, they’ll plead.
And of course, UCLA would benefit massively from Barr sticking around for one more season. Another season of terror in Pac-12 opponents’ backfield will do wonders against the likes of Marcus Mariota in Oregon or Kevin Hogan at Stanford.
But that’s selfish, and stupid. Anthony Barr, if he’s a lock for a top-15 selection, should declare for the NFL draft in 2013 without second-guessing himself.
Because he has nothing left to gain by staying in Westwood for one more season. The odds of his draft stock rising are slim, given he’s already first-round material, while the odds of an injury — especially at linebacker — and the odds of having a less stellar year compared to his 2012 campaign are too high to ignore.
A year of development? Wouldn’t Barr be better suited developing his skills at the next level, even if it means he doesn’t start for an NFL squad immediately? Wouldn’t Barr rather take the money while he can, learn on the job when he does?
Of course, and for that, Barr should go.
We’ve seen the joke that Matt Barkley has become, announcing his return (via ornament ball, I guess) that was launched with a full-scale “Unfinished Business” campaign. In 2011, Barkley was a lock for a top-five pick in the draft and now, it’s not so clear whether he’ll get drafted in the first round, something that was evident prior to the shoulder injury he suffered at the hands of Barr.
It’s selfish to ask that 20-year-old kid to come back for our own entertainment next year, to sacrifice the work he’s put in to turn his career around just for the possibility of an added win or two.
Barr isn’t replaceable at all, but UCLA isn’t about to head south without him, given the way Mora and his staff have developed players in one season. That’s not to say he’s not welcomed back — hell, we’d all love to see Barr destroy Max Wittek at the Coliseum in 2013 — but rather, Barr should have the fan-base’s blessing to forgo his senior season in pursuit of his dreams.
Anthony Barr needs to destroy backfields at the next level. UCLA will benefit, too. Won’t some stud linebacker recruit see Barr’s success in Jim Mora and Lou Spanos’ system, and think to himself, “Wow, if they can mold that kid into a top-15 pick in just one year, what can they do for me in four?”
Of course, because that’s what they look for in schools: Precedence. And because of Barr’s stellar play, UCLA’s bar has been raised significantly. The standard has been set and recruits will look forward to reaching such a standard.
We know he’ll be a one-hit wonder here in Westwood, but it’s not as if he wasn’t a true Bruin — Barr could’ve taken the Malcolm Jones route, transferring out to seek opportunities elsewhere. Instead, he wanted to get involved in Mora’s system, transforming and reinventing himself the way the coaching staff wanted. He worked his ass off to get on Mel Kiper’s top-15, and for that, he should reap the benefits while also having the fans’ blessings.
It’s tough to say goodbye to a kid like that, one who exemplified and, in some ways, helped define UCLA’s season.
But why risk sending him off on a sour note? Why limit him? If your child was accepted to Yale or, even better, UCLA, would you tell them they’re not ready, just so you can delay having to say goodbye for one more year?
Absolutely not. It’s time for Barr to spread his wings and fly around fields at the next level.
Who knows? Maybe it’s Carson Palmer’s shoulder he separates next.