Most of the publicity surrounding the defensive line in the NFL Draft’s Class of 2017 has focused on Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, who could be the No. 1 overall pick. However, there’s another young defensive end who could be selected in the top 10 picks on April 27.
In his latest mock draft at CBS Sports, Will Brinson believes the Carolina Panthers will select Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett with the ninth overall pick. “Adding more pass rushers — especially young pass rushers — should be a critical emphasis for the Panthers in this draft,” he said. “Maybe this is high for Barnett, but he was crazy productive in the SEC and can step into Carolina?s rotation right away.”
ESPN’s Todd McShay apparently doesn’t think that’s all that high for the 6’3″, 259-pounder — he slotted Barnett two spots later to the New Orleans Saints in his most recent mock. “After trading Brandin Cooks to the Patriots,” he said, “New Orleans now has three of the top 42 picks in this draft and five of the top 103. They used their first four selections last year on defense, but still need help on that side, even after signing Alex Okafor, who’s a solid player but does not solve their need for another pass-rusher. Barnett racked up incredible production in his three seasons at Tennessee. He uses his hands well as a pass-rusher, and he has the athleticism to drop into coverage occasionally.”
Barnett was indeed quite productive during his time in Knoxville, tallying 33 sacks over the last three seasons (including 13 in 2016) and 52 tackles for loss. And while Barnett isn’t considered as athletically gifted as Garrett, McShay told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press that the gap between the two isn’t as big as many perceive.
“He’s really good with his hands, does a nice job of getting off of blocks, he has great closing burst,” McShay said. “I don’t know what his 40 time was and really don’t even care. But when he gets to the point where it’s a straight line to close to the quarterback, he closes as quickly as anyone in this class, probably of outside of Myles Garrett. It’s similar.”
In fact, NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks wrote (per Jim Wyatt of Titans Online) that Barnett isn’t necessarily an inferior prospect to Garrett at all. “It’s well-established that Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett is viewed as the top pass rusher in the draft, but Tennessee’s Derek Barnett definitely deserves consideration for the honor after terrorizing the SEC as a destructive force off the edge for three seasons,’’ Brooks wrote. “In fact, you could make the argument that Barnett should own the No. 1 spot at the position after wreaking havoc on SEC foes as the Vols’ designated pass rusher.”
“He displays enough quickness, balance and body control to blow past blockers with dip-and-rip maneuvers or he can use a variety of power moves, including the butt-and-jerk or bull rush to get home off the edge,” Brooks continued. “With Barnett also displaying a non-stop motor to complement his technically sound game, he’s like an old-school construction worker with a hard hat, lunch pail and a shiny toolbox. He has all of the rugged traits that you covet in a player while also displaying the skills to dominate at the next level.”
John Sigler of SB Nation believes that, as player comparisons go, Barnett’s worst-case scenario is Rob Ninkovich of the New England Patriots. “Ninkovich and Barnett bring a similar skill set,” Sigler said, “of high football IQ, lateral movement through contact, and bend around the edge.”
The best case? That would be Baltimore Ravens star Terrell Suggs. “Like Barnett,” Sigler said, “Suggs had a bad combine and bombed his timed workouts like the 40-yard dash (Suggs ran an official 4.84-second time, while Barnett ran 4.88-seconds). But the Ravens stuck with their film evaluation of Suggs and he became one of the NFL’s most-prolific pass rushers, logging eight or more sacks in ten of his thirteen seasons. If anyone can experience a similar career path to Suggs, it might be Barnett.”
For what it’s worth, Barnett was sick in Indy, although he’ll have a chance for a do-over at Tennessee’s Pro Day on March 31.
IDP owners are no doubt looking at those player comps with smiles on their faces. However, before we start counting on Barnett for the sort of steady fantasy production Ninkovich has provided over the years (or the icing on that production that was T-Sizzle’s pass-rushing prime) a couple of things have to happen.
First, Barnett needs to land somewhere like Carolina or New Orleans, where he will have positional eligibility as a defensive lineman. He’ll have to ascend to a full-time role, although if he’s taken in the first half of Round 1 that shouldn’t take long. And then finally, of course, Barnett will have to make the most of those reps and carry his collegiate success over to the NFL.
There’s ample reason to think Barnett will accomplish those goals — enough to make him a pretty clear choice as the second rookie defensive lineman in IDP Dynasty drafts this summer behind Garrett. However, Joey Bosa‘s success as a rookie a year ago threatens to create unrealistic expectations for the cream of this year’s crop. No matter how good the prospect, 10-sack seasons are a rarity for first-year pass-rushers.
As such, even in a relatively favorable destination Barnett is probably best viewed as a lower-end DL2 in redraft IDP leagues, although if you like to gamble in that spot Barnett could out-perform that slot if the chips fall the right way.