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Eagles Film Room: What to make of Derek Barnett

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Closer look at Philadelphia’s 2017 first-round pick.

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Derek Barnett is a polarizing player amongst Eagles Twitter. Whenever I tweet a clip of him or something about him, I will receive comments saying he is flat out bad and also comments saying he is hugely underrated. So, I decided to make him my second film room piece of this offseason (JJAW was my first). I watched every snap from 4 games and took most of the clips from 3 of them to make this piece.

As always, all I am doing is trusting my eyes. There are a number of factors that could impact on a player’s tape each year, but all I can do is judge what I see. I can’t post everything I see so I will comment on something if I see it frequently.

Firstly, some background to this piece.

Derek Barnett is lined up at right defensive end on every play unless I say so.

I watched Barnett against the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks. I don’t have time to watch all of these teams left tackles so I use Pro Football Focus to help me determine the calibre of the player Barnett is going against. It is not perfect but it gives me a baseline. For this piece…

Green Bay’s left tackle is David Bakhtiari who ranks 2nd in pass protection and 27th in run blocking.

Detroit Lions left tackle is Taylor Decker who ranks 27th in pass protection and 19th in run blocking.

New York Giants left tackle is Nate Solder who ranks 50th in pass protection and 65th in run blocking.

Lastly, Barnett was rarely ever double teamed or chipped by a running back or tight end. He was normally one on one with the left tackle as the offensive line would double Fletcher Cox or Brandon Graham and shift to that side.

Let’s begin.

Strengths

Derek Barnett had a fantastic game against the Giants and showed off some real strengths rushing the quarterback. In recent years he has struggled with the spin move (it wasn’t perfect last year either) but he has started to develop this into a strength of his game.

The play below is really impressive. Barnett is standing up in his stance and he has to play through the tight end’s chip block and then reset his body. He ends up doing a really good job faking the outside move with good feet and hand movement. He gets both his hands moving to Taylor Decker’s outside. Decker therefore expects the outside rush and Barnett is then able to use his hands to push off Decker and use his as momentum to hit the quarterback. This play doesn’t show up on the stat sheet but it’s a good spin move.

Below we have 2 other examples of Barnett using the spin move well. In the first clip, he is standing up again and it is a similar story to the play above. When watching edge rushers, I want to see them win on that 3rd step they take. Barnett explodes off the line and by the time Solder is taking his 3rd step he is worried about getting beat to the outside because of the speed Barnett has built up. Barnett has planned this and he then uses his inside arm to shove Decker inside and once again uses his momentum to spin past him.

The second clip above is a spin move but a slightly different one. This time Barnett uses a spin move to stop Solder from getting his hands inside his chest. As an edge rusher you will lose the majority of the time if you let the tackle get his hands on your shoulder pads. Barnett uses the spin move to stop this and he does a good job powering through to the quarterback. He doesn’t get the sack but forces one by moving the quarterback off his spot.

By the 4th quarter against the Giants, Barnett had Solder on the ropes. Almost everything he was doing was working and it was beautiful to see. The clips below show this nicely.

By this point in the game, Barnett had won consistently with spin moves so Solder seemed terrified of getting beat by this again. On the clip above, Barnett is able to fake an outside move and then use both his hands to easily swim past Solder to the inside. On first look, this is terrible by Solder. It looks like he doesn’t get his hands up. But, I think Barnett actually does a good job swiping away Solder’s outside hand before he can even get it up. Solder is on the defense too early as he has been beat so frequently and Barnett is able to easily win inside and force the quarterback off his spot. The second play is a similar story. Barnett is almost slowing down to get Solder to react. He fakes the outside rush, gets Solder turned inside out and spins inside him once again to get pressure on the quarterback.

Lastly, let’s look at a play that doesn’t look like much but it sums up why Jim Schwartz likes Barnett a lot as a player. He is at left defensive end here.

Barnett plays tough all the time. He is one of those players that ‘leaves it all out there’. He might not be the most gifted player, but you can never question his hustle. He is always the player I saw jumping on a pile to recover a fumble or diving for players as they go out of bounds as you can see in the clip above. Barnett’s hustle here stops Rodgers from gaining too many yards and I like the fact he tries to strip the ball at the very last second. Sometimes Barnett gets a bit reckless and has had some dirty plays in his career too. While I don’t like these plays, I think they are emblematic of the type of player Barnett is.

Barnett is also a very sound run defender. Despite his issues rushing the passer at times there is a reason he is on the field on 1st and 2nd down a lot. He is a very secure run defender and although he may not make too many ‘splash’ plays he consistently does his job and doesn’t leave huge holes for running backs to get through.

This play sums up Barnett in the run game the majority of the time. He is relatively trustworthy and you can put him out there on early downs and not have too many concerns despite the fact he doesn’t make a huge number of stops.

You will notice none of the clips above show Barnett getting any sacks. He did get 2 sacks in the games I watched but he had a bit of help…

You can see with the first sack that Barnett ‘only’ has to beat a tight end so some fans would say he doesn’t deserve credit. I actually think it’s a pretty good play because he does a good job not biting on the fake jet sweep and manages to beat the tight end really quickly and then does an excellent job of knocking the ball out of Rodgers hands. But it is totally fair to point out that he is going against a tight end so he should win. The second clip is also a sack in the stats column but he doesn’t really do anything. It’s a stunt and he comes free. These clips highlight that whilst sacks are important they are not everything.

Weaknesses

Barnett really struggled against the Packers. As mentioned earlier, Bakhtiari was ranked extremely high by PFF in pass protection and he showed why against Barnett. However, worryingly Barnett also struggled a lot against Taylor Decker. I have two big issues with Barnett’s game that he needs to work on if he wants to be become a better player. The first is his bull rush. It’s not good.

You can see in the clips above that Barnett really struggled to push Bakhtiari back anywhere near Rodgers. Bakhtiari was excellent at getting his hands on Barnett’s shoulder pads early and Barnett had no answer for this. Barnett does not have the play strength of a Brandon Graham or Fletcher Cox to be able to simply push the tackle back into the quarterback. He simply does not do this on film. Barnett needs to develop his strength or develop a consistent counter move for this situation. He has to be able to use his hands to get the tackles hands off his shoulder reps. Some of the reps I watch I am sure could last 5-10 seconds and Barnett would just not get anywhere.

The first clip below highlights this. Barnett actually gets a decent push on Decker and looks like he will be able to force Decker back but he is unable to get that final push and Decker is able to force Barnett backwards in the end.

The second clip is another good example of this. Here Barnett comes steaming off the line and hits Bakhtiari right on his pads with some good force. Barnett is able to stop Bakhtiari from easily getting his hands on him and it looks like he will push Bakhtiari right back into Rodgers. However, Barnett lacks the play strength to fully move Bakhtiari and in the end Bakhtiari does a good job regaining his balance and halting Barnett’s momentum. Barnett realizes this and he tries a last-ditch spin which enables Rodgers to get out of the pocket and get a few yards.

The following clip is not a bull rush but it’s an example of Barnett struggling with his hand usage.

In the clip above, Solder comes right at Barnett and hits him early. Barnett seems surprised and is unable to use his hands to push Solder away at all. Daniel Jones ends up drifting to this side and has an absolutely huge throwing lane because Barnett is unable to get any push at all. Barnett seems to be negated far too often when the offensive tackle lands the first blow. He really needs to work on developing a counter move when engaged with a tackle.

The clip below also shows how Barnett struggles when the tackle lands the first punch.

Barnett tries to get inside but has no luck getting his hands-off Decker. He then tries to spin but again his counter move does not work and he is unable to get past Decker and get any pressure on the quarterback.

One of the other big concerns with Barnett was his ability to bend the edge and meet the quarterback at the top of his drop. I rarely saw Barnett do this successfully. In college Barnett was able to win by bending the edge a lot but he has struggled to do this at the NFL level. In the first clip below, Barnett is trying to bend the edge but he doesn’t have the explosiveness off the line to win against Decker. As I mentioned earlier, you need to win by the 3rd step and Barnett it too slow. Decker is able to easily keep Barnett going up the field and he ends up way away from the quarterback.

The second clip is a similar story. Barnett is unable to get off the offensive lineman after he loses the first move and he ends up no where near the quarterback. I had concerns about Barnett coming out of college as I felt that despite winning outside in college it was often down to his timing of snap. Barnett just doesn’t have that initial first step explosion that you need to beat good offensive tackles at this level. I rarely saw him show the ability to bend the edge and dip past offensive tackles either. You want to see edge rushers get low to the ground to prevent the tackle from getting a hand on them but I just didn’t see this with Barnett much.

Overall

How about this for a hot take, I think Derek Barnett is… fine.

He’s fine. He’s an average starter.

Is he terrible like some fans think? No. Is he a star? No. Would you like more from a high first round pick? Yes. Is it a disaster? No. Can he get better still? Yes! Barnett is only 23 years old. He came into the league very young and he has battled with injuries. I do not think this is a final judgement on him as a player.

When you draft an edge rusher early in the first round you want him to became a pro bowl player or an All-Pro if you get lucky. I feel confident saying that Barnett will never be that good. But he is not bad and has developed into a decent player. I think he is a pretty average starter who you are not in a rush to immediately upgrade on. You can line up as a starter each week and I don’t think he will be the reason that you lose a game.

His biggest weaknesses as mentioned in the piece are his lack of explosiveness off the line of scrimmage (which prevents him from bending the edge) and his lack of counter moves. The play is over a lot of the time an offensive tackle makes the first move and gets his hands on Barnett’s pads. Barnett needs to work on developing a consistent counter move. When he tries to bend the edge, he is often pushed way up field and is unable to look back and win inside which means some quarterbacks are able to escape.

However, does have games where he looks good rushing the passer and he is a relatively safe run defender. His spin move developed nicely throughout the season and he was able to use it effectively on multiple occasions as shown above. He also plays with great hustle and I can guarantee he will be the player jumping on top of the pile while the refs are trying to pull players off. He is that kind of player which I bet is why Schwartz loves him.

Something I would like to see Schwartz do more of is let him stand up and rush from a wider stance. I know some people pre-draft saw him as a 3-4 edge rusher and I can see why in some of the games that I watched.

Overall, if the Eagles were playing a team with a very good left tackle, I would not expect Barnett to do too much. If the Eagles were playing a team with a bad left tackle, I would expect Barnett to beat him consistently. That is pretty much what you get from an average starter, and from Derek Barnett.