With an incredibly talented draft class, the Eagles could have gone in many different directions with their first round selection. Would it be a running back? A new wide receiver? Perhaps some much needed help at cornerback? The Eagles picked defensive end Derek Barnett with the 14th overall pick in the Draft in a decision that raised the eyebrows of many. Eight games into the season, and those same eyebrows are being raised for a different reason.
Barnett has youth on his side…the same can be said for every draft pick, but at just 21 years of age there is plenty of room to grow. Arriving in Philadelphia after a scintillating college career with Tennessee in which he eclipsed the school sack record previously held by the legendary Reggie White, expectations were certainly high.
As the season began and the pass rush began to maraud offensive lines across the NFL, Barnett slowly started to make an impact. Some flashes in the opening few games saw some impressive tackles for a loss and consistent pressure, but the numbers didn’t seem to follow. Any Coach or coordinator will tell you that pressure is about more than just numbers…but as time went on, Barnett ticked all the boxes.
After five games without a sack, Barnett forced his way into the pocket to pick up 2.5 in two games. One week later, he’d have a blocked field goal to his name. The Tennessee product is rolling right now and his unrelenting motor is thrusting him into the spotlight more and more every week. As his snap-count increases, his production follows.
“It is fun. Our room is very competitive.” Derek Barnett said when asked about the competitive nature of the defensive line. “Practice is fun. We come in, practice, and everyone in the room is good. We feel as if there is no drop off in the room. The ones, twos, and threes are all capable of getting hot at any moment, and I think it shows on game day. Everybody sees that it is not just one guy.”
Jim Schwartz loves to rotate his defensive ends and ensure that the big names remain fresh. While Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Brandon Graham have all had unique and impressive games of their own, their form has allowed Barnett to ease into the NFL without the pressure of seeing the Lions’s share of snaps right away. It’s all about development for Barnett, as has been the case since Training Camp.
Working closely with Jason Peters after practices to develop his spin move, Barnett’s work ethic shined through on even the rainiest afternoons where the Birds’ were forced into the NovaCare Bubble. The young defensive end enjoyed a preseason where it all seemed to come together, painting a promising picture for the future. But between week one and week eight, there has been a distinct improvement in Barnett’s consistency.
“I feel a lot more comfortable.” Said the first round pick. “I feel like the game is slowing down for me now. I am just focusing on every play and not doing too much with my job. If I do my job and focus on my assignments, the plays will come to me. At first, a lot of the old heads told me I was doing well, to be patient and it will come. Now it is starting to come because I am doing the techniques they are teaching us and everything will fall into place.”
Jim Schwartz also spoke highly of the pass-rusher’s progress. “Just more experienced.” The defensive coordinator said. “I think that just the accumulation of reps and things like that, there’s not a whole lot that he hasn’t seen. Talent level is still the same. Toughness still the same. All those other things. But he’s a good player. Eventually he’s going to make the kind of plays that we know he can make and we’re seeing that now.”
What stands out even more than his improvement on the field, is the humble approach away from it. Completely under the radar, Barnett sought out rookie quarterback C.J Beathard after the Eagles’ dominating win over the Niners.
“He was just like ‘Man, great job.’ He said a lot of nice positive things.” Beathard told reporters after the game. “I played against him in high school and played against him in college. And he said ‘Good job; you’re tough. You played well.’ And I said the same thing to him. I think he’s a really good young player. Obviously they are having a great season, and I wish him the best of luck. And that was that.”
Eight games into the season, Barnett is shining in his ruthlessness on the field, his work-ethic off the field, and his humble character. The 6’3, 259 lbs edge rusher is everything the Eagles hoped he would become…and the ceiling is only getting higher.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports