NFL Prospect Focus: UCLA Defense

UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora has always been known as a top defensive coach. When he was an NFL Defensive Coordinator, he annually had one of the top defenses in the league. Now as a college Head Coach, he is using that talent to develop top prospects for the NFL. Since becoming Head Coach at UCLA, he has turned their program around. In the recruiting world, they no longer play second fiddle to cross-town rival USC. In fact, with USC on a downward slide, UCLA has become the dominant team in the L.A. area.

This year UCLA has three seniors on the defensive side of the ball who, in all probability, will get drafted by NFL clubs next spring. The leader, outside linebacker Anthony Barr, will without a doubt be a high first round pick. The other two, defensive lineman Cassius Marsh and Linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, will be drafted in the middle to late rounds.

Anthony Barr – Outside linebacker

Barr is a 4th year senior from Los Angeles. He was a former four-star recruit who was recruited as a running back. His first two years at UCLA, he played the running back position as well as the F-Back position, which was a cross between running back and move TE. In 2012, he was moved to outside linebacker and his career took off. In his first year on the defensive side of the ball, he had 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss. As a junior he was an unknown commodity. This year, teams are scheming to slow down his pass rush skills. Still he has four sacks and 11 tackles for loss through six games.

Barr has great size (6’4 – 248) to go along with very good athleticism and play speed (4.55). He has a long frame and plays with very good strength and power. For a player who has only been on the defensive side of the ball for less than two seasons, he has very good instincts. He is a quick reactor and is consistently around the ball. In the run game, he shows strength at the point and has the quick hands to shed blocks. He plays the inside and outside run equally well and is also a very good pursuit player. He makes a number of plays coming from the backside. As a pass rusher, he is almost always coming from a 2-point stance. In 2012, he faced many one-on-one situations and won many of those battles to get a sack or pressure. This year, he is being double-teamed far more, and he is showing improvement, getting away from double team blocks. When in a one-on-one situation, it can be very difficult for a blocker to get hands on him. He has an explosive first step, uses his hands well, and knows how to use moves. He has the power to bull rush and push his opponent back toward the QB. When he slips a block, he shows an excellent burst off the block to close.

Barr is used in coverage some and shows good cover skills. He has a very quick drop and has the loose hips to turn and run. He plays under control and can transition easily. Barr is best suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Some 4-3 clubs will try and bulk him up a bit and play defensive end while other 4-3 teams would play him at Sam on base downs and defensive end on passing downs. As I have said many times, quality pass rushers are hard to find and have great value. Because of his pass rush skills, Barr easily has top 10 value and maybe even top 5.

Cassius Marsh – Defensive Line

Marsh is a former 4-star recruit who was recruited by many of the top programs in the country. He is a fourth year senior and a three year starter. When he enrolled at UCLA, he was playing at about 300 pounds. His playing weight now is closer to 265. He is tall and lean looking with good overall athletic ability. He has good change of direction and good play speed. I would estimate his speed at about 4.85. In their base defense, he lines up as a 5-technique defensive end in a 3-man front. When they get into some of their sub packages and go to a 4-man front, he will line up outside as a DE. There have been times when he has played on his feet and even dropped into coverage.

As a 3-4 DE, he plays hard, showing top competitiveness but his lack of size shows up also. While he is strong and tough, he can have trouble with big offensive lineman, and I have seen him driven off the ball. Still, he has good hand use and shows he can disengage from an opponent. He has quick reactions and finds the ball. As a pass rusher, he gets off the ball quickly and knows how to set up his opponent with moves. He can use his hands and has a variety of hand moves. He has the flexibility to dip his shoulder and get under his opponent, and he has the snap in his hips to bull rush. With his competiveness, he looks to finish on a consistent basis.

Marsh is best suited to play as a 4-3 end at the next level. He lacks the bulk, size, and power to play in a 3- man front. Because of his athleticism, some 3-4 teams will work him out as an OLB with the thought of playing him on his feet. If he proves he is able to do that, his value increases. Right now, I see him as a solid mid round pick.

Jordan Zumwalt – Linebacker

Zumwalt lines up as an inside linebacker in UCLA’s base 3-4. He is seldom on the field when they go to their different sub packages. When I first started watching Zumwalt, I thought there was no way he could play at the next level. He struggled to shed and just wasn’t a strong point of attack player. The more tape I watched, the better I liked him. While he may only play about 50-60% of the defensive downs, he is productive. He has adequate size at about 6’4 – 235. His play speed is good, but he does have some tightness in his hips, and his overall change of direction is adequate. While not an overpowering player, he is tough and plays hard. He has good instincts and can find the ball. While he can have some trouble getting off blocks, he does show good ability to slip blocks and finds a way to fill at the point and make some plays. In pass coverage, he has a good drop and shows awareness in zone. He doesn’t have the suddenness and speed to be a consistent man coverage type. I haven’t seen him used enough as a pass rusher to grade that skill.

I see him as a late pick who can make a team as a solid backup and special teams player. He needs to get stronger and add some bulk. He best fits in a 3-4 type scheme, but he may also be able to play Sam in a 4-3 defense.

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