Recognition: Has a quick trigger and is willing to take the aggressive path. Often keyed on high-hat/low-hat signals and dialed up on blitzes that can mutate into run fits. As a strong side backer, quickly senses climbers and is not afraid to initiate contact. As a weak side backer, will shoot the first gap he sees even when slow-playing pursuit over the top might be advantageous. Is rarely flummoxed by backfield motion or running back change of direction behind the line, and will grab tackles behind or near the line of scrimmage with good hole vision.
Angles: Takes flat angles into the sideline and knows how to use it to his advantage. Regularly wins as a force player, especially when playing into boundary screens or swing passes, with an inherent understanding of leverage and where his help is. As a line-of-scrimmage SAM, will work upfield to turn runs back inside toward clean-up backers. Comes into contact with a plan to disengage and present in the gap.
Block Deconstruction: Angry bull coming into contact. Will displace linemen on occasion, but generally does well to pop, shed, and tackle without losing ground. Could work on ability to gain control with hands and ragdoll, as he's too willing to pop and shed in space, when the back has a two-way go. Particular excels at handling cut blocks and split zone flow -- will crash down on cut blocks and create big pile ups that slow down rusher and allow for help to arrive.
Tackling: Generally a strong tackler. Has great finishing burst, especially in space, to lay the wood and looks to get involved on tackles late. Has some length issues and what appear to be stiff shoulders that limit his ability on lunges, but when he's square he gets low and wraps. Space tackling presents a problem, but he projects best as a box player on almost all counts regardless.
Range: Has surprisingly decent range, a lot of which stems from strong recognition abilities. Has a good first step but mostly wins with following steps, to generate great momentum into his target point on a good angle. Has gear-down issues when moving at top speed, with a slightly boxy frame, but has a great sense of timing to arrive like a ton of bricks at the contact point into the sideline.
Coverage: Great man coverage player regularly tasked with third down/red zone coverage of backs and tight ends. Surprisingly skilled at working through rubs/picks to get into space on HB wheel routes; gets connected quickly and knows how to crowd space without committing interference penalties. Has modeled improved ball skills with seven passes defensed this season. Quick to attack downhill against split zone boot action and loves to generate contact within contact window to eliminate checkdown routes for quarterback. Zone coverage is fine, but not as exciting as man ability.
Functional Athleticism: Will not blow anyone away with his athleticism, but seems to be sufficient for a box linebacker like a 3-4 MIKE or 4-3 SAM. Boxy frame with big shoulders; could use more weight in the butt/thighs. Likely playing over the listed 230 pounds. Has some explosiveness and great strength into the point of attack; squatty build provides natural leverage. Does not have great change of direction ability, especially when dealing with cutbacks and looking for a true stop-and-go. Arms may prove a bit stubby.
Toughness: Tough as nails. Motor is exceptionally hot -- will get involved in tackles late and deliver a shot to corralled, but still upright runners. Makes high-quality pursuit plays with never-say-die attitude. Looks to bring the thunder to climbing linemen and benefits from that style of play; is a gap-plugger who will attack the first daylight he sees to force the back elsewhere. Aggressive, attacking style will attract blue-collar coaches.
Versatility: Offers experience as an on-line and off-ball backer and seems like a good fit for 3-4 or hybrid defensive fronts. Should play strong to the tight end to maximize quick recognition and gap-plugging tendencies, especially on running downs, and can be trusted in man coverage over the back on passing downs. Should be used as a blitzer as well, though through an interior gap and not as an EDGE rusher. Will provide good reps on special teams.
BEST TRAIT: Recognition
WORST TRAIT: Functional Athleticism
RED FLAGS: None
PLAYER COMPARISON: Blake Martinez
Cody Barton has the tape of a low-end NFL starter, and if he can test well enough at the NFL Combine to clear benchmarks, teams will likely draft him hoping that future will come to pass. Barton is more likely to play as a high-end back-up across his NFL career, and with his ability to play the MIKE or the SAM and fit different responsibilities, could have a sticky career. Barton's surprising coverage ability will keep him on the field for late downs, and his physical and angle-conscious style of the play makes him a sound member of a cohesive front seven.
ROUND GRADE - Round 4