Barr closing the gap on Clowney
Teams could have a tough call between Bruins pass-rusher, Gamecocks star
For this latest ranking of our Top 32 prospects, I gave UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr an equal grade to that of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
This was for a couple of reasons:
1. For as much as I defended Clowney early in the season from what I believed to be unfair criticism of his effort, his motor has appeared to run hot and cold in the past few games of his I've watched on tape. His grade hasn't gone down, but the gap between him and the rest of the prospects in the draft isn't what it was earlier in the season.
2. Barr continues to perform at a high level week in and week out. He has been a dominant all-around player, and his effort is outstanding.
I'm not saying that this is now a 50-50 call between the two -- I still have Clowney ranked higher -- but I do think Barr has played well enough to at least make NFL teams take a really close look as to which will be the better all-around pass-rusher at the next level.
It'll be really interesting to watch the process unfold. Both are insanely talented, and a big factor could be what scheme the teams deciding between the two play -- Clowney is an ideal fit as a 4-3 defensive end, and Barr projects as a 3-4 outside linebacker -- but Barr is likely going to enter the draft process with more momentum than Clowney based on their performances this season.
That's one storyline we'll look at in this week's Top 32, which also features two new entrants. Here is our updated ranking of the best prospects for the 2014 NFL draft.
(Note: The scouting reports will largely stay the same for each edition of these rankings, but we'll update as needed based on recent performances and upcoming matchups. Draft-eligible non-seniors are noted with an asterisk.)
Analysis: The scouting report for Clowney remains the same: He has a rare blend of size, athleticism, strength and speed and is as effective with his bull rush as he is with his speed rush. He has had to deal with a lot this season -- heavy expectations, injuries, opponents scheming against him every game -- but, as I mentioned above, there have been times in his past few games when his effort has been up and down (something I didn't see from him earlier in the season). He still has excellent upside, however, and, during his career, has shown his potential to be a dominant player.
Analysis: Barr has been dominant this season. He has played with great effort, and he possesses very good first-step quickness and elite closing burst as a pass-rusher and a run defender. He has ideal size and length for his position, and his versatility to not just contribute as a pass-rusher but also to hold up well in the run and when dropping into pass coverage adds to his draft value. As I mentioned above, he's playing well enough that NFL teams could have some serious internal debates over whether to take him over Clowney in May's draft. For a team looking for a 3-4 outside linebacker, he could be the right fit.
To read Todd McShay's complete ranking of the top 32 prospects for the 2014 NFL draft, you must be an ESPN Insider.