From now until the 2017 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
Derek Barnett/DE/Tennessee — 6’3”, 260 Lbs
-Good burst and pad level off the ball
-Dips shoulder well at the point of contact to get underneath OL
-Above-average hand usage as a pass rusher
-Has some experience standing up and dropping into coverage
-Can rush the pass from two-, or three-point stance from either side of defense
-Great motor that runs hot consistently
-Tremendous production over three years at Tennessee
-Stiff hips in space and doesn’t move well laterally
-Limited pass rush arsenal
-Relies on athleticism far too much to win off edge
-Struggles to shed blocks against run/prone to getting driven off the line
-Picks sides against the run and can take him out of the play
-Shoddy tackler that tends to dive at ankles in space
-Gets caught flat footed in open field and struggles against athletes
-Tends to try and time snaps, which can lead to offside infractions
-2016 First Team All-American
-Owns Tennessee’s all-time career sacks record (33.0), breaking Reggie White’s mark of 32.0
-Ranks second all-time in tackles for loss in program history (52.0)
-Had seven multi-sack games in his career at Tennessee/
-First player in SEC history to record 10+ sacks in three consecutive seasons
What a difference a year makes for Tennessee’s Derek Barnett.
Despite putting up eye-popping sack numbers in 2015, the game tape of Barnett’s sophomore season was very bland and let me wanting to see what all the hype was about heading into the 2016 season.
But once I reached the ’16 tape, I could see why he was so hyped up in draft circles.
Standing 6-feet-3 and weighing around 260 pounds, Barnett often looked like he was shot out of a cannon at the snap of the ball, routinely beating helpless tackles around the corner to pray on vulnerable quarterbacks in the pocket.
While the numbers were astounding in 2016, the thing that kept standing out to me for Barnett as a pass rusher was the fact that he really only had one thing going for him, and that was his get-off and ability to dip and rip around the edge without losing speed.
Although it’s very impressive on tape in college, having just one pass rushing move at the next level just won’t cut it.
Sure, the production is certainly there, but we’ve seen time and time again that great numbers in college don’t always translate to the NFL. Fortunately for Barnett, he has plenty of room to grow his arsenal as a pass rusher thanks to some great tools at his disposal, including an impressive work ethic and in-game motor that should have NFL teams desperate to get its hands on him.
While teams almost certainly knew throughout his junior season in the Southeastern Conference that he really relied heavily on his get-off and athleticism off the edge, it was very hard to slow down, let alone stop altogether.
Just look at that jump off the ball and the ability to keep his pad level low, allowing him to dip underneath the Florida left tackle for a big sack in the fourth quarter of a come-from-behind win over the rival Gators.
As the season progressed Barnett showed some serious hand usage as a pass rusher, which allowed Tennessee to move him all over the defense looking for mismatches.
His ability to get off the ball quickly against this Texas A&M guard allows his to close ground quickly while wiping away the guard’s hands, giving him a free lane to Trevor Knight in the pocket.
His quick pressure here forced an interception and really showed me what his use at the next level could be.
When I first saw this play it reminded me of how the New York Giants used to roll out the NASCAR defensive package from the Super Bowl years with Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, Mathias Kiwanuka and Jason Pierre-Paul as the four down linemen, allowing Tuck and Pierre-Paul to take advantage of mismatches against guards, leading to pressures and sacks.
That’s what I saw here with Barnett, who clearly owns a speed advantage against interior linemen.
As I mentioned earlier, Tennessee had the luxury of moving Barnett around on the defense, whether that was sending him from the left to the right side of the offense, or dropping him into coverage.
But regardless of where he rushed from, he was successful with his get-off and ability to dip under the blocker.
I mean, he’s almost untouched here, but that’s because of his ability to eat up so much ground up the field off the snap before turning the corner.
His ankle flexibility and balance in this clip are impressive, but it still leaves me wanting more as a pass rusher, let alone an overall defender.
I get that he put up amazing numbers in three years as a Volunteer, but he’s not a great run defender and really struggles to stack and shed at the line to make the play.
Over 14 games of tape that I watched of Barnett, I saw him stack, shed and find the ball carrier at the line of scrimmage just once, and that was against Georgia this past season.
Most of his run stops came when he was left unblocked against the read-option, so take that for what it’s worth.
And when he’s left in the open field against an athlete, well, it’s not pretty.
Alabama’s Damien Harris isn’t some sort of great athlete at running back. He’s more of a plodding back with some power and some speed, but he catches Barnett flat-footed here and leaves him grasping for ankles in the open field.
This play right here, as well as a handful of other plays I’m not able to include in this article has me coming away from his film evaluation believing he’s a 4-3 defensive end that can kick inside on obvious pass-rushing downs to take advantage of mismatches.
Projecting him as a 3-4 outside linebacker is a mistake and largely takes away from his strengths of playing at the line of scrimmage hunting pressures and sacks.
He’s still super raw (believe it or not) despite having three terrific seasons from a statistical standpoint. Barnett needs to develop multiple rush moves, including counter moves when his get-off and athleticism can’t win, and he needs to get stronger against the run at the next level.
That being said, the sky is the limit for the Tennessee product as he has the proper frame, arm length, athleticism and drive to be a star player in the NFL. Landing in the right situation with the right coaching staff that can unlock his vast potential could be the difference between being a possible NFL Defensive Player of the Year-type player and a rotational player who plays roughly half the snaps.
Projection: Late Day One
Games Watched: vs. Oklahoma (’15), at Florida (’15), vs. Bowling Green (’15), at Alabama (’15), vs. Vanderbilt (’15), vs. Northwestern (’15), vs. Florida (’16), at Georgia (’16), at Texas A&M (’16), vs. Alabama (’16), at South Carolina (’16), vs. Kentucky (’16), at Vanderbilt (’16), vs. Nebraska (’16)