Somebody pinch me because I must be dreaming, April has come at last! Are you guys as excited as I am?
For the next few weeks leading up to draft day I am going to breakdown a player a day that I believe the Ravens should/will target. Today I am taking a closer look at Alabama safety Mark Barron.
Mark Barron is the consensus top safety in this class. There is some debate over whether he is a strong safety or a free safety(more on that in a minute) but no matter how you look at it he is easily the best player at his position since Eric Berry and Earl Thomas came out in 2010.
What He Does Well
Barron is an Elite run defending safety. He is a perfect form tackler and rarely goes for the “knockout” blow, instead choosing to wrap up ball carriers (see above picture). He has coverage ability but is best suited to play inside the box which is where he spent the majority of his time in college. He has very impressive speed for a safety(posted a 4.47 40 time, safety average was 4.59) of his size, which brings me to his next positive. Barron stands 6’2″ 225lbs. That’s a full 3 inches taller than Ed Reed (5’11″ 220lbs). Barron has excellent instincts around the ball and continually puts himself in position to make plays. One of the biggest positives about Barron is his experience in the Alabama defense. Alabama runs the most complex defense in college football and they use their safeties as catalysts to make the rest of the defense work. The Alabama Scheme is like a college version of the Ravens hybrid 3-4 scheme and the safeties are used in a very similar fashion.
Where He Needs Improvement
On the field Barron has almost no weaknesses. His zone coverage ability is a little suspect at times but to be honest that is more of a nitpick than a real negative. Barron’s biggest issue is his durability concerns. He missed games in each of the last two seasons for separate injuries (torn pectoral in 2010, torn rib cartilage in 2011). In fact i would wager that if Barron is available at 29 it is most likely in large part because of his injury issues more than anything else.
How I See It
The first 4 plays in the video are a run, a pass a run and a pass. on each of the run plays Barron comes in and basically knocks the pile over to finish the play and on the second pass play you can see him read the QBs eyes, get into position and knock the pass away easily. the point being Barron was in the right spot on all four plays. When i watch a safety I look at whether he was in position to make a play as being equally important to actually making the play.
The next play is a real beauty by Barron(at the 1:08 mark). The LSU offense probably ran this screen play about 10,000 times last season (ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration). to phrase that another way, they are really really good at running that screen. Barron immediately recognizes the play, sheds his blocker and makes a stick tackle for a minimal gain. That’s a play a linebacker would make, not a safety.
On the very next play Barron gets lulled into a bit of a trap and almost gets pushed out of the play, but recovers quickly and gets to the ball carrier and stops the run before LSU gets the first down. Could have been better with quicker play recognition but it was still a solid play by barron.
The next play is another nice one. Barron starts to sun forward immediately after the snap and locates the gap the runner is about to come through and makes a nice play for 1/2 tackle. Good solid run recognition and avoided get caught up in the mess on the other side of the line.
The next play was a bit concerning because Barron bit on a pump fake while blitzing. Barron had a clear path to the QB and could have at least gotten his hand on him to disrupt the pass but he sees the pump fake and stops rushing. Luckily the WR dropped the pass (on a less than perfect throw) but that could have potentially been a game breaking play in a low scoring game. Not a terrible play and an understandable mistake but i would like Barron to keep up the intensity through the play.
The next play almost looks like Ed Reed wearing an Alabama jersey jumping a route. Barron has this ability he just didnt get to use it much at Bama. on the play Barron starts deep in a cover two style defense and drops. He quickly recognizes the play and sees the WR break towards the corner and knows the ball is coming. He books it across the WRs face and makes a hug INT. I was watching this game with a buddy(when it was live) and I immediately said that was the play that won the game (little did I know how inept the Bama offense would become in the 4th quarter. Barron demonstrates his ball hawking ability and a knack for baiting the QB on the INT and almost takes it to the house.
At the 3:08 mark you can see a play where Barron was slow to see the play develope and late on the tackle. He ends up getting a tackle assist on the play but he was pretty late getting there, especially with no deep routes being run that he would have needed to worry about.
The next play is a bit funny because it looks to me like the RB is scared to run into Barron on the play. Barron forces him to the outside and doesnt allow him to turn the corner and rather than take Barron on head on he runs out of bounds for a 2 yard loss.
The last play of the video is Barrons worst play of the game. He misreads a stretch run and ends up over pursuing the play(in OT), missing the tackle and allowing the back to break free and essentially end the game by setting up a chip shot FG for the win. It sucked for Barron, but isnt a hug concern heading to the NFL because I have watched him make the tackle on that same play about a dozen times, that just happens to be the one he missed.
Players like Barron are going to be the NFLs answer to TEs like Gronk and Jimmy Graham. Players like Barron have the size to not get pushed around by big TEs and the speed to keep up with them, think of them like small fast linebackers. There are only about four players with the ability to cover those TEs on a consistent basis and the other 3 are all probowl caliber NFL players. Barron is an in the box SS with some serious FS potential and is a lot rangier than many give him credit for. He would be a steal at 29 and would be a major part of the Ravens offense for years to come. The hard part would be for a team that was a dropped pass and a missed FG away from the super bowl to justify spending their first round pick on a player that likely wouldnt start his first year and plays at a position where the Ravens have arguably the best starting duo in the league. The Ravens need to draft a safety at some point in the first round because Reed is getting ole, Pollard only has this season left on his contract (the next one will be much pricier) and the Ravens have no depth to speak of at the position. If Barron is still around at 29 (I could easily see him going to the Jets) then he would be difficult to pass up.
Pro Player Comparison: Eric Berry, SS, Kansas City Chiefs