The pick was met with mixed reactions. Some people were immediately excited about the Eagles drafting the man who broke Reggie White’s college record. Others were a bit underwhelmed, and understandably so, as they expected the Eagles to add a weapon to their offense. Regardless of whom you wanted the Eagles to pick, the fact remains that Derek Barnett will bring new attitude to this defense and a much-needed boost to the pass rush. I profiled Derek Barnett a few weeks ago and the conclusion then is still very much the conclusion now. Barnett may not be elite in terms of his size or athletic ability, but the physicality, motor and intelligence he brings to the position will inevitably give this defense a shot in the arm. Barnett is incredibly polished and aware as a pass rusher and run defender, meaning he can be on the line on any down and make an impact.
The Eagles defensive line had bright moments last season, and we know how good Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are, but often the rest of the defensive line and shortcomings in the secondary meant pressure from those two rarely got finished. With 10 sacks or more in each of his college seasons, Derek Barnett will be a guy on the line who will help finish pressure from Cox and Graham. According to Pro Football Focus, Barnett was their second ranked pass rusher, only behind Myles Garrett and ahead of Solomon Thomas. Pro Football Focus had Barnett down for 34 sacks, 43 hits and 110 (!!!) hurries in his three years at Tennessee. He ranked third in pass rush productivity, a measurement of how many snaps a player plays per sack, hit or hurry. Even better, his second ranked pass rush productivity on plays lasting less than two seconds suggests that a lot of sacks were high quality plays he created instead of just being hustle plays or coverage sacks.
Due to his size, Barnett is just OK as a run defender, but his physicality and awareness are often helpful in making sure he is no liability against the run. Teams would often double team Barnett on running (and passing plays) and frankly that is not attention he would be seeing in Philadelphia, so it is hard to get worried about it. It is understandable that some people may have wanted a weapon on offense at pick 14, but it cannot be understated how much better this defense gets with Derek Barnett in the lineup. The Eagles desperately needed a pass rusher to complement Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, something they were not getting from Vinny Curry. Barnett is a finisher on the defensive line and, at the very least, he is a guy who can add even more pressure and make opportunities for Cox or Graham. The Eagles only getting pressure from one side of the line last season made the pass rush easier to offset. Having three guys who can get after the passer like Barnett can is invaluable. At minimum, he will be in heavy rotation on the line with Chris Long and Vinny Curry. At best, he will step into a starting role and immediately make an impact in Jim Schwartz’s defense. Even as a rotational guy, he is the player you want coming in on third down in those wide nine looks where he can use his anticipation and motor to make hell for the offense.
An underrated aspect of this pick is the character Derek Barnett brings to the Eagles locker room. Barnett, now notoriously, wrote a cover letter to every single NFL team. The letter is filled with great nuggets about Barnett’s leadership and work ethic, but my favorite part came towards the end.
Achieving that sack record definitely meant a lot to me, but I would have traded it away in a heartbeat to have won a championship while I was in college. So understand that even though I’ve achieved some noteworthy things and won some individual awards, they are not what drives me.I want to lead a defense. I want to be an important part of a winning team.
I want to win a Super Bowl.
The gritty attitude that Barnett plays with on every snap seems to be the one he carries with himself on a regular basis. Barnett comes across as a player who breathes football and is willing to do whatever it takes to win games.
Barnett may not be the “perfect” prospect and people will argue that there were better values at the 14th pick, but in the end, does that matter? Barnett helps this team immediately in a way that the team could use improvement. Even if he was not the best player on the team’s board, when he is coming off the edge on third down; helping Cox and Graham get to the quarterback, it won’t matter who else was at the 14th pick. The Eagles got a finished product at pass rusher. Barnett is not only going to help this team win games, but he will do it the moment he steps on the field.