Going into the 2017 NFL Draft, the talks around The City of Brotherly Love were concerning which corner or wideout the Eagles select in the first round. Fast forward through that first night and with the 14th selection, the Birds walked away with one of the most underrated pass rushers in this years class. The Eagles would select back-to-back corners with their next two selections, but the question was still “Who is Derek Barnett?”
I like to start every Barnett conversation with the reminder that the he was the young guy that broke the Tennessee Volunteer sack record, held by none other than Hall-of-Famer, Reggie White. 33 sacks by any measure should be considered impressive, but to do it against some of the best offensive linemen in all of college football makes it even crazier to consider. Barnett spent his collegiate time facing the SEC (South Eastern Conference) which is regarded by most as the best conference in all of college football.
With a great combination of strength and speed, Barnett was able to dominate in his four years as a Volunteer, constantly hunting and destroying opponents quarterbacks on a weekly basis. When you glance at him, it is easy to see why there have been comparisons to current Eagles DE Brandon Graham, but when you actually sit and study the film, there is a lot more to him (Not to say Graham isn’t dominant in his own right).
What stands out right off the bat is Barnett’s deadly first step. Almost seeming at times like he had been in the offensive huddle and heard the snap count, he has a great burst and stunning speed to get around the edge on even the best offensive tackles. To go along with his burst, Barnett has an abundance of strength in both the run and when using the bull rush. Blessed with a bevy of pass rush moves, he never seems to shy away from the basic man-to-man rush, as he head-buts and runs through linemen. His ability to stay low while searching for the Quarterback has been another weapon in his arsenal of moves.
Barnett’s thick base, helps keep his 6’3, 270 lbs, body well balanced while bending off the edge. Deemed extremely athletic by coaches, teammates and analysts alike, he possesses the skillset to set the edge in the run game and drop back into coverage in a zone setting the very next play.
He has already turned heads while practicing early on, with D-line coach Chris Wilson, saying
“The great part is what you saw on film and what we saw on film, is what we’re seeing here, from a leadership standpoint from a work-ethic standpoint. He doesn’t expect anything to be easy. He doesn’t look for anything outside of being coached. So I’m pleased with him. The key thing is to keep on developing him and be realistic about where he is at this point.”
These comments came a day after, the young pass-rusher, had spent most of the day beating OT Lane Johnson, during 11-on-11 and pass rushing drills.
“He (Barnett) did good…. He got me a couple times today, I got to flat on him.”
continuing on, Johnson explains what makes Barnett so impressive.
“The thing about him, He has such a good bend. So if you miss with your hands, your going to get beat. ..I Think he’s going to have a great year for us. He’s got a great motor. Every play. That’s a good thing for us.” (CSN Philly)
The praise didn’t stop there, as Barnett has done nothing but impress just about everyone who sees him play. Including the tough to make smile, Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who seemed to gush a bit when talking about his new weapon.
“Well, anytime you turn around and look at that number 92 [Reggie White mural in NovaCare Complex auditorium] back there, anytime they can break any record that that guy has, that’s going to get your attention pretty quick. [He] played right away as a true freshman at the University of Tennessee, was productive game-in and game-out. He’s really tough. He’s got a great center of balance. He’s not on the ground very much. He’s got some things to work on, like any rookie. But he was an effective player. I think that against all competition he was consistent from game to game.
He’s tough as can be. He’s good against the run and good against pass – played right and played left. All those things led us to draft him. How much he can contribute [and] how quickly he can be ready is up to him and coaches. It’s our job to get him ready to be out there. But we’re really excited about him. He can turn a corner and be like this high off the ground. You guys will notice that when you see him out there. He’s also been giving great effort in practice. We’ve pointed out his effort a couple times – chasing the ball and those kinds of things. For a rookie to do that kind of stuff has been pretty impressive so far.”
Despite the team having yet to put on the pads, the proof is in the pudding. Derek Barnett has the potential to be a very good player. With his Unique combination of size, speed, and natural ability,bhe possesses the skillset to be a dominant force coming off the edge for years to come. The Eagles may not have drafted the first round corner that so many wanted, but they might have instead drafted the underrated pass-rusher that the team needed to be relevant on the defensive side of the ball again. When you add Barnett to Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Vinny Curry and Chris Long, you get the potential of a very scary defensive front. One that Derek Barnett could help make unstoppable.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports