With the 14th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles surprised many by selecting Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, the man who shattered Reggie White’s collegiate sack record. With some big names left on the board when the Eagles were on the clock, some natural questions arose..but for Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas, it was just a case of sticking to the plan.
When the Eagles ten minutes began, there were some stunning names left who could have heard their names called. Reuben Foster and Jonathan Allen were two of the most prominent..but the Eagles stuck to their board and pulled the trigger on Barnett. For Roseman, the decision was simpler than we assume.
“We did expect at the 14th pick there would be some good players.” Roseman said. “Now the names of those guys may have been a little different than we had anticipated when we went through it. But we had anticipated scenarios where some good players would be there. For us, some of the things that factor into the equation, certainly we talk about character and medical.
So those are things that come into the equation as we finalize our board. But all through the process Derek was a guy, in fact, Joe and I had a moment in December where he came into my office and started raving about Derek Barnett, and I showed him a piece of paper that I had written down with his name. So it was kind of a funny moment that we had there when he came in and it was written about Derek Barnett.
He stands for what we want to be, and I think everyone in this city will see what kind of person he is, what kind of player he is. Unbelievably high character, unbelievable worker, and tremendously talented and productive.
While Barnett fits the Eagles character mold, he also fits their new direction perfectly, building from the ball out. I reported that the Eagles would be prioritizing the trenches back in January, and since then, Timmy Jernigan, Chris Long, Stefen Wisniewski, Chance Warmack have all found themselves acquainted with a new deal in midnight green.
“We look at it in the off-season, and we lost two guys on defensive line to start, and now we come back and getting him and Chris, and Timmy, we really feel like our lines are the strength of this football team. Roseman told the media. “For all of us, when we sit down and discuss what we want to be, it’s that. That’s the start. So our actions have to reflect that. We stay true to the process on this.”
So where does the new direction come from? Well, it all starts with Joe Douglas and the way he evaluates talent. For the Eagles, it became a case of mirroring the league’s most consistent and exciting teams, ensuring that they protect the future of their franchise. Something that is a lot easier said than done.
Andrew Luck was sacked 41 times in 2016, matching the total of times he was speared to the ground during his rookie year. Combine this with an injury last year and being sacked 32 times in 2013..and it’s safe to say that even despite the addition of T.Y Hilton, the Colts struggle to keep their quarterback upright. Putting even more pressure on a pocket-passer to withstand a brutal pass rush and make logical decisions to often carry his team to victory.
Wentz was hit 33 times during his rookie season..a year in which he broke the NFL record for most pass attempts in a rookie season. Drafted as a quarterback with the intent of learning behind Sam Bradford, being expected to swim in the deep end straight away was no easy task..but like Andrew Luck before him, the NDSU star held his own.
In comparison, the likes of Derek Carr benefitted massively from an incredibly tough offensive line in 2016. Carr was sacked just 18 times all season, en route to a 28 touchdown, 6 interception season in which he threw for 3,937 yards before picking up a heartbreaking injury.
The Eagles also struggled in getting to the quarterback consistently last year..so when you pair them together, the focus is obvious. Howie Roseman alluded to just how much emphasis has been placed on both sides of the trenches, saying:
Well, I think it starts with Joe and his scouts. Since Joe has been here, the things that he stressed to [the scouting staff] when we met and talked about what we wanted this team to look like, is that it’s the war-daddy mentality of having guys on the field who are going to do whatever it takes to get better. Guys who have an incredibly high motor and tremendous character. This is the first pick with Joe here, and to get a guy [in Derek] who — when we talk about those guys — is our example when we talk to the scouts, and when Joe talks to the scouts and says, ‘This is what I’m talking about here in Derek Barnett.’
I think it’s a great example for the room here as we go forward over the next couple of days. This is what fits. This is what we’re looking for, and this is how we want to build. For us, the thing we’re proud about this offseason, is that we committed to building the lines. On the offensive line, we brought everyone back, and re-signed Wiz [C/G Stefen Wisniewski] and added Chance [G Chance Warmack]. Then on the defensive line, making sure we’re really strong up front.
Being strong up front is certainly one way to put it. Barnett brings a lot of upper-body strength that he’s able to utilize well, despite not being the most athletic edge-rusher in the draft. But there’s one thing that doesn’t lie..and that’s the tape. Something that wasn’t lost on Joe Douglas.
“What Derek is highly proficient at is at the top of his rush. So when the D-lineman gets to the top, he is excellent, excellent ankle flexion, excellent ability to bend at the top and finish. He can really close. And he uses a variety of moves. He uses speed rush. He uses power, he can go speed to power on people. So you’re getting a guy that knows how to finish when he gets to the top of the rush.
I think there is a higher ceiling with Derek. I think he is going to get better. I think Chris [Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson] and Phillip [Eagles defensive quality control/assistant defensive line coach Phillip Daniels] are going to do a great job with him and improve some of his hand technique. He even said it in his interview after he was drafted, how he’s just scratching the surface of his talent level. So I expect him to definitely reach his full potential because of his make-up…
….I will say this: the thing that jumped out to me with Derek, just like I mentioned earlier, is his ability to finish at the top of his rush. First, he’s got a great first step, so he’s getting tackles off balance. Then, when he gets to the top of the rush, he’s able to bend and close and finish. [He’s got] very strong hands [and] great lower-body flexibility.”
Barnett may not have been the flashiest car in the showroom, nor the fastest..but for the Eagles, he may have been the most valuable to them. Playing in all 39 games during his time at Tennessee, Barnett was as durable as he is explosive. With Marcus Smith and Vinny Curry struggling to tick both of those boxes, the edge rusher who amassed 52 tackles for a loss in his career, will be a welcome addition to a team focusing on solidifying the trenches.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports