EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Vikings sidestepped quarterback Johnny Manziel and handed the Cleveland Browns the top cornerback in a trade down from No. 8 to No. 9 in the NFL Draft on Thursday night. But they weren't upset in the least to pass on two positions of need for Anthony Barr, a raw but rare outside linebacker from UCLA.
"You can't coach what this guy has," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. "This is the same conversation we had last year with Cordarrelle Patterson. He has a very high ceiling."
Patterson, the receiver/returner whom the Vikings traded back into the first round to grab last year, became an All-Pro and record-setting kick returner and a promising receiver as a rookie. As for Barr, the Vikings envision even more of a role for a defense that ranked last in the league in points allowed last season.
He projects as the starting strong-side linebacker and special weapon for head coach Mike Zimmer, the defensive mastermind who is transforming Leslie Frazier's reactionary Cover 2-based scheme into an aggressive pressure defense.
"He's like a fawn learning these things," said Zimmer, referring to the fact Barr has played only two years of linebacker after switching from running back. "I've never had a linebacker that has the size and the speed and all the things this guy has."
That's saying something considering Zimmer has consistently coached top-10 defenses and No. 1 units in Dallas and Cincinnati. But the compliments didn't stop there.
Spielman compared Barr to former Dolphin defensive end Jason Taylor, a potential future Hall of Famer. Director of College Scouting Scott Studwell compared him to former Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman, a Hall of Famer. And Zimmer compared Barr's role in the Vikings' defense to how Denver uses Von Miller, the 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
"The strong-side linebacker is a pressure position in our defense," Zimmer said. "But he also can cover."
The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder satisfied the Vikings on game film. And he absolutely blew them away during his pro day, running a 4.47 and posting a better three-cone agility time than any of the cornerbacks at the scouting Combine, according to Spielman.
"He can rush the passer, but with his speed, we won't have any trouble covering down the seam either," Spielman said. "He can turn his hips and move. And at his size, it makes it harder for the quarterback to fit the ball down the seam."
The Vikings could have taken Justin Gilbert, the top cornerback available. That would have been a solid pickup for a team that blew five leads in the final minute of regulation last season.
But they weren't sold. So they traded the eighth pick to Cleveland, which took Gilbert. The Vikings picked up a fifth-round pick to move down.
"We had offers to go down further," Spielman said. "But we felt pretty confident that Anthony wouldn't have lasted that long. He's a special, special athlete."