Rumors swirled early and often on Thursday, with Derek Barnett’s name eclipsing the previously-whispered Charles Harris as the man to watch.
Plenty of folks (me included) welcomed this development; while Harris offered very little to get excited about, Barnett, with his takedown of Reggie White’s sack record and all-around terribly impressive tape, was a player we could get behind at pick No. 14.
Then a crazy draft happened.
And then, through it all, the Eagles still selected Derek Barnett, DE out of Tennessee in the first round.
About a dozen minutes after the selection, Howie Roseman emerged from the rubble, flanked by Joe Douglas and Doug Pederson, to explain the decision.
“We were really excited to get Derek,” Roseman said. “Highest-rated guy on our board, a player throughout the process we’ve done a lot of work on, Joe and his staff.”
I’ll break up this quote to note: no general manager/decision maker, ever, will admit that the player they took is anything less than the top player on their board. There is quite literally no way Barnett was the top player on the Eagles’ board; I’m sure he was highly rated, but No. 1? No.
Anyway, back to Roseman...
“We’re always going to build along the lines, but at the same time, we want to stick to our board and pick the highest-rated guy that Joe and his staff put together,” Roseman said. “He fits our scheme, he fits the culture we’re trying to build. I think we got a tremendous player in the first.”
When Roseman says Barnett fits the Eagles’ scheme, that comment makes a whole lot more sense. Barnett’s calling card at Tennessee was getting to the quarterback and finishing. He eclipsed NFL legend Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee, and his ability to get to the QB and take him down is what drew plenty of teams to the rusher.
It’s certainly what has Joe Douglas excited.
“The thing that jumped out, to me, was look how much he can finish,” Douglas said Thursday. “First, he’s got a great first step. And then when he gets to the top of his rush, he’s able to bend and close, and finish. Just very strong.”
Douglas’s talent evaluation credentials speak for themselves, which means when he likes a player, he’s usually right. And with Barnett’s numbers also speaking for themselves, there’s plenty to like about this pick.
Apparently, this pick has long roots in the Eagles’ building. Back in December, Roseman said, Douglas came storming into his office raving about Barnett. He was talking about how much he liked the DE as a player, the kind of potential he had, etc. Roseman, bemused, showed Douglas a note on a piece of paper he’d recently scribbled down. It was Barnett’s name.
Maybe that was the germ that led to Thursday night’s selection. Maybe it was the Combine, maybe it was the tape, maybe it was a private workout.
It might’ve been the way he came across interacting with Roseman and the Eagles’ organization.
“He stands for what we want to do, and I think everyone can see what kind of person he is, what kind of player he is,” Roseman said. “Unbelievably high-character, unbelievable worker.”
Head coach Doug Pederson, the man tasked with helming that “high character” rebuild during the regular season, echoed Roseman’s evaluation.
“He’s exactly what we’re trying to build here when we started last year,” Pederson said. “Being able to acquire pass rushers, and get him in there, makes us better. Everything starts up front with the lines, and this is another piece.”
Roseman also said the difficulty with finding impactful pass rushers made selecting Barnett, a player he sees having an impact on the league for years to come, a no-brainer.
“We look at how we’ve got to be able to rush the quarterback, and this is a 20-year-old pass rusher who can be here for a long time, and for us this is something where, how do you get these guys, how do you find pass rushers?” Roseman said.
“They’re really hard to acquire, a tough to fill position, and you can never have enough of those guys. You look at the offseason, we lost two guys on the line to start, and now we come back and get him, and [Chris Long], and we really like our lines in the trenches of this football team.”
It seems, Thursday, that Roseman, Douglas, and Pederson are all sold on Barnett as the future of the Eagles’ pass rush, a part of their defense in desperate need of improvement if Jim Schwartz’s scheme is to succeed in the coming years.
We’ll soon see if they’re correct.