Does your team need a pass-rushing demon at defensive end? A 3-4 linebacker who can get to the quarterback? How about a tight end that can split the seam and make plays?
What makes Cincinnati's Connor Barwin unique is that he might be able to fill all three of those needs. A tight end and special teams monster for the Bearcats from 2005 through 2007, Barwin caught 53 balls for 692 yards and six touchdowns in that capacity. But after the 2007 season, the team made a radical decision and moved him to defensive end. Barwin didn't skip a beat, putting up 15½ tackles for loss, 11 sacks and seven pass breakups in his one season on defense. There will be concerns at the NFL level when it comes to his relative lack of experience on the defensive side, but the biggest puzzler for the pro scouts may be this: Is there anything this guy can't do?
"If they want to see me as a tight end on my pro day I’ll do whatever they want, TE, DE, LB,” Barwin said at the Scouting Combine. In Indy, Barwin worked out as a defensive end and blew away most of the competition. Among defensive linemen, he placed first in the vertical (40.5), 3-cone (6.87), short shuttle (4.18), broad jump (10'08'), and second in the 40-yard dash (4.66) behind only Richmond DE Lawrence Sidbury. Had he worked out as a tight end, his 40 would have tied him for third with Cal's Cameron Morrah.
So, why the position change in the first place? "It was the last position change to happen," Barwin said. Coach (Brian) Kelly felt a little thin at the defensive spot with both (ends) graduating. Before spring ball he asked if I would be interested in playing defensive end, I said, ‘Coach, I never thought about it.’ He said, 'We’re going to try you at defensive end this spring but not really since that it’s now your starting position and this is going to work.'"
It worked well enough for teams to be looking to him to provide pure pass rush -- probably as a 3-4 linebacker at the next level. Whereever he goes, Barwin has no trouble adapting, as he proved with his quick switch to the other side of the ball. "I bought in pretty quickly," he said. "Coach Kelly) told me that it was going to help me versatility and get in the league. He said, 'You might be a better defensive end.'
"Early in college I thought tight end was the position for me because of my skill set. I still think I have those abilities. But I would be lying if I said I really had a passion on defense and being in the attack mode (before I switched positions). Either way there’s a lot to learn in either position."
What did he learn from the transition? "A lot, but I got by with athleticism and my passion and enjoyment of loving to do it. I did a self scout and felt like I should’ve had 4-5 more sacks. I was mad but excited to think about it."
The Falcons, who actually do have needs at tight end AND defensive end, were one of several teams to meet with Barwin at the Combine. Teams have basically stripped the tight end prospect away, and are looking at him as a rush end in various formations. "I’m not torn at all," Barwin said. "I’m actually excited about embracing one or the other because I know that’s going to happen and I know the two-way thing can’t happen unless it’s in a red zone situation. I’m intrigued about fully diving into a position and learning the full technique and the intangibles and other things about whatever position it is."
What will the team that drafts him get in Connor Barwin? "I think I’m one of the best athletes in the draft. I think right away no matter what I’m going to contribute on special teams. I already played them throughout my whole career."
He's been Mr. Everything, and now he's looking to make it in the league where only the best of the best survive. Don't bet against Connor Barwin -- he's already proven that he'll do whatever it takes -- at any position and under any set of circumstances -- to find his place in the game.
Doug Farrar is the Publisher of FalconInsider.com. You can also find his work on Football Outsiders, ESPN.com, the Washington Post, and the Seattle Times. Feel free to contact Doug here.