Vikings trade down and take LB Anthony Barr with No. 9 pick in NFL draft
By Chris Tomasson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Rick “Swapping” Spielman was up to his dealing ways.
The Vikings general manager made a move early in Thursday night’s NFL draft and came up with UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr with the No. 9 pick. Then he picked up another first-round pick at No. 32 and took Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater at one point had been speculated as going with the top pick in the first round. After having a rough pro day in March, he ended being taken with the last pick in the round. But Spielman said Bridgewater had looked good in a private workout with the Vikings in April in his native Florida.
“It was a great day for the Minnesota Vikings,’’ Spielman said. “I think we really upgraded ourselves.’’
The Vikings traded with Cleveland early in the evening to move down one spot and took UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr. One of the players they passed up was Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, whose slide was the story of the first round.
While the Vikings have had much-chronicled quarterback troubles, they’ve also had big problems at linebacker. They helped address that with the selection of Barr, who only has played on defense for two years after starting his college career at fullback.
“Very excited to get Anthony Barr,” Spielman said. “He is a tremendous athlete. He ran 4.47 at his pro day. When you looked at his shuttle times, just talking about the athletic ability, his short shuttle and his three cones were actually faster than all the corners in this draft. ... He has great upside as a potential edge rusher.”
But then the Vikings later in the draft got their quarterback.
“Very excited about what we’re able to do to get back in the first round,’’ said Spielman, who dealt a second- and fourth-round pick for Seattle’s No. 32 selection. “I feel very stongly about Teddy Bridgewater with everything we’ve seen on tape.’’
Spielman said the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Barr was the guy Minnesota wanted all along high in the draft. He said he was confident the Browns wouldn’t take him at No. 8 (they selected cornerback Justin Gilbert), so he made the deal to drop back one spot and also get a fifth-round selection at No. 145 overall.
“I’m looking forward to working with Coach (Mike) Zimmer,’’ Barr, who did not attend the draft in New York, said by phone from California. “He’s a very smart defensive coach. … I couldn’t be more excited to be a Minnesota Viking.’’
The Vikings continued the beefing up of their defense under Zimmer, a first-year coach. They primarily signed defensive players during free agency.
“We’re thinking of ways to pressure the quarterback as many times as we can and the position (Barr) plays is a pressure position,’’ Zimmer said. “That’s why we feel good about him.’’
Zimmer is entering his 21st NFL season, the previous 20 as a defensive coach. He said he’s never had a linebacker with the size and speed of Barr, who took a visit last month to Minnesota.
Barr is raw, and Zimmer said he “probably” won’t be a starter opening day next season. But he’s really looking forward to working with Barr.
“I love taking guys with talent and coaching them up because those guys, you can take them a lot further,” Zimmer said. “He was one of the more unique guys in the draft. I’m really, really excited about him. (Thursday), when we came in here, we really thought this was going to be our guy all along. ... He’s just like a fawn. He’s just learning these things.”
Due to his athleticism, Spielman called Barr similar to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, taken by Minnesota in last year’s first round.
“You just don’t pass up these athletic-type players because they’re too rare and too hard to find,” Spielman said.
In his two seasons on defense, Barr had 149 tackles, including 40 1/2 for loss, with 23 1/2 of those sacks. Spielman said he spoke earlier this week to UCLA coach Jim Mora and got a glowing report.
“I think he’ll be special” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said on the air after Barr was drafted.
Although Spielman called Barr a strong-side linebacker, Zimmer said it’s too early to say exactly where Barr will play. But Zimmer said he could see both Barr and Chad Greenway, Minnesota’s top outside linebacker, on the field at the same time.
“I’m very familiar with him,’’ Barr said of Greenway. “I’m very excited to learn from him and pick his brain.’’
Greenway applauded the selection. He wrote in a text message, “”Good pick. I think he will definitely help us.”
Barr was projected by many to be a mid-to-late first-round pick. However, Spielman said that wasn’t the impression he got when talking to other teams.
“I wasn’t sure,’’ Barr said of whether the Vikings would take him. “I think they played their cards close to their vest.’’
Some thought the Vikings might consider Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, but he was surprisingly taken No. 3 by Jacksonville. Spielman wouldn’t comment on bypassing Manziel, who was not taken Thursday until No. 22 by Cleveland.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.