Going into the 2014 NFL season, Minnesota Vikings' players occupied three of the twenty spots on NFL.com's "Making the Leap" countdown. Those players were cornerback Xavier Rhodes, defensive end Everson Griffen, and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
As we approach the completion of this year's list, the Vikings have two players on there thus far. The list kicked off with wide receiver Charles Johnson at #20, and the second player is linebacker Anthony Barr, who slots in at #3.
The article, written by Gregg Rosenthal, talks a lot about how good Barr looked last year despite only being in his third overall season as a defensive player (having been recruited by UCLA as a running back). I'll jump right to the conclusion and let everyone read the article for themselves. Here's what Rosenthal says about expectations for Barr in 2015.
The Vikings defensive line is loaded and should allow Barr to make plays, but strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 defense isn't always a glamour position. Barr isn't going to necessarily rack up the stats that get noticed. Like (New England Patriots' linebacker Jamie) Collins, he will make his money by doing a little bit of everything and showing up with big plays.
Just look at Barr's stat line in only 12 games last year: 70 tackles, 4 sacks, three picks and 2 forced fumbles. Pro Football Focus ranked Barr as a quality pass rusher and run defender, while holding his own in pass defense. He's the fantasy baseball player you draft because he helps in every category.
Sure, there is a risk we're picking Barr a year too early. But he was already an above-average starter as a rookie when all signs (body type, inexperience at the position) pointed to a steep learning curve. Barr is the type of player that probably wouldn't even fit in the NFL 20 years ago, but Zimmer is the perfect coach to maximize Barr's talents to line up all over the place. He shouldn't blend in much longer.
I'm not sure where Rosenthal got the "three picks" figure from, but outside of that it seems like a pretty accurate representation of Barr's ability. Teaming with Eric Kendricks, his former teammate with the Bruins, should be a lot of fun for Vikings' fans to watch.
There are still two spots left on NFL.com's "Making the Leap" list. I fully expect that to be more than enough space for the Vikings to match their three entries from last season, as I suspect one of those two spots will be filled by a certain quarterback that we've all developed a fondness for recently.