2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Tennessee OLB Derek Barnett

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

The Good

-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

The Bad

-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

Tape Breakdown

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)

Previous 2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles
Deshaun WatsonHaason ReddickMarshon LattimoreCorey ClementTim Williams
Jourdan LewisTakkarist McKinleyBrad KaayaNathan PetermanO.J. Howard
Charles HarrisAlvin KamaraTyus BowserDavid NjokuDeMarcus Walker
Chidobe AwuzieDeShone KizerMarlon MackCameron SuttonZach Cunningham
Corey DavisCarl LawsonPatrick MahomesKareem HuntEvan Engram
Derek RiversRyan AndersonJoshua DobbsJordan LeggettSamaje Perine
Corn ElderBucky HodgesJames ConnerCooper KuppStanley Williams
Fred RossJamaal WilliamsGeorge KittleEjuan PriceChris Wormley
Jeremy McNicholsJoe Mathis

  • falconsaftey43

    Great analysis. I agree that he doesn’t fit as a 34 OLB. He really struggles in space. That said, I wouldn’t be against drafting him, they’d just have to know that you’re not dropping him in coverage…like ever. To me, he has the perfect tools you want to see as a pass rusher coming out, and that’s first step and bend. He has that in spades (some think his first step is strictly snap timing, but I disagree). He shows good hand use too. I want a guy coming out that has at least one great go to move to win OUTSIDE, he has that. You can build counters off of that one move.

    Guys that have good inside counters as their best move (Williams jab step/swim, Harris spin, Taco spin) aren’t nearly as effective if they don’t have a solid way to win the outside as NFL OTs will short set them till they prove they can beat them outside. (To me this is largely what happend to Jones. He had decent get off that college OTs respected on the outside and a really good jab step to cross the OT’s face and win inside. In NFL, OTs see he has no bend and they can ride him up the arc after a short set even with his good first step. This renders his best move (jab step inside) useless. Only time he wins is when OT oversets him (Solder in first NE game).

  • PaeperCup

    That bend though….

    Why is it so hard to find complete packages. Either they are dominant pass rushers with nothing much to offer in run def or coverage, or they are good at sticking the run, but meh at getting to the QB. Is it the way these guys are built? Is it an instinctual thing that they can’t break or distinguish the two tasks? Or do players and coaches find a skillset and just perfect those while ignoring the rest?

  • Steelers12

    no way he is there at 30 for us to even have a sniff at him

  • falconsaftey43

    I think it’s just that they are young players that need coaching. Coaching time keeps going down in NFL and NCAA due to new rules. Especially in college, a lot of times they are content on winning with athletic ability because it works. Don’t need the technique as much when you’re the superior athlete.

  • Spencer Krick

    That bend and speed man.

  • PaeperCup

    question. Are NCAA players allowed to have personal trainers or specialists? Would NFL teams be able to provide trainers to players who they see having a pro career?

  • falconsaftey43

    NFL could not provide them. Players can have them as far as I know, but would have to be unaffiliated with the team and be funded solely by the player. Don’t think most guys could afford to do that.

  • PaeperCup

    figured that about the NFL….WHat if a specialist worked with a player pro bono, with the promise of being reimbursed when they make it big. Sounds like that could be against NCAA regulations.

  • falconsaftey43

    Yeah that’s not allowed either. Illegal benefits. Can’t accept gifts.

  • PaeperCup

    If I was one of those guys, I’d just charge a dollar.

    Just trying to see if there was a way a player could get the directed attention they need. It’s not quite like the basketball where college players play their freshman year as a warmup to the NBA

  • steelburg

    I know some say he isn’t a great fit but I like this guy on the strong side if he tests well at the combine.

  • falconsaftey43

    Haha, pretty sure that’s against NCAA rules as well. They monitor the crap out of everything players do. There are tons of restrictions on what type of legit work they can be paid for. It’s kinda ridiculous.

  • PaeperCup

    I’m just trying to find a new line of work, I thought I might have been onto something big.

  • Shane Mitchell

    -Shoddy tackler that tends to dive at ankles in space

    Perfect fit, if we have him in for a visit no doubt he would be at the top of our draft board.

  • Matt Manzo

    I’m not that interested in him. I hope he goes before us and allows another edge guy to drop.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Honestly I lean towards Lawson but would not be upset at the pick.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Top 30?, wow I just don’t see it. Looks like he might benefit from dropping 10 lbs and being a third down specialist.

  • LucasY59

    Its just my opinion but he reminds me way to much of Jarvis Jones (even the part where most think he should go earlier than the Steelers pick, but he could end up (not so) conveniently still being available) I dont like that he seems to be a limited athlete (at least by NFL standards) and part of his success in college was that he got by on athleticism (against lesser college athletes)

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  • pkeats86

    Jarvis was about 220 in college and ran a 4.9. Barnett is 260 and will run much faster. I expect his 10 yard split to also be top 3 for an edge rusher. I also agree that he doesn’t fit in the 3-4 because of his stiffness but, I think if he goes to a team like the Cowboys, he will surpass Jarvis’s sack total in year one. His get off is insane. Can you imagine Ereck Flowers trying to catch this guy? Not a chance.

  • SilverSteel

    Yeah, when I heard what Deebo spends on his trainers and medical staff, I was blown away. I was thinking that the FO should help him out with those expenses. We got a real bargain in Harrison for the last 2 years. I think we will keep that in mind when he gets his 2 year contract coming up.

  • SilverSteel

    I don’t see Harrison having many good moves but the one he uses is perfected and the Tackles still hold him every time. I think Dupree would benefit from a few moves and I would rather have the freak athlete than an average athlete with moves any day. Thats what coaches are for.

  • Michael James

    You know why his get-off is so insane? It’s not because he’s such a great athlete with insane explosion numbers, it’s because Barnett has become a master at timing the snap count. That’s why he was the player who was offside the most last year in college. He’s a gambler. If he doesn’t time the snap count correctly, he actually shows a very average first step.
    That’s why I’m really torn on him. He shows great leadership and desire, but I think he could be a huge disappointment in the NFL since his strengths doesn’t translate at all. It’s even in the article: when he’s playing against highly athletical OTs, he looks lost. Well, spoiler, all OTs in the NFL are at least above average athletes.
    Right now I have Barnett and DeMarcus Walker as the EDGEs who will most likely be huge disappointments in the NFL (based on their current draft projections).

  • Michael James

    Like I posted above, Barnett is an average athlete and even his first step (in a vacuum) is average. It just looks like a godly first-step because he is a master at timing the snap count. If he doesn’t time it right, his get-off looks fairly average.

  • Michael James

    Thank God. Calling it now: huge bust

  • Steelers12


  • Ace

    Snap count not a bad thing to gamble on really. I don’t see how that can be a knock against a guy. Watching him vs taco again, crazy. Check out jon ledyard. He has some stills of every Michigan lineman off the snap with Taco still counting grass. BTW, not trolling you, just cruising through old potential round one guys and see you as the most recent post. I kind of like Barnett. I watched his game where he was going for the Tenn sack record. Dude was a monster and got pressure on every play until he got home. And I’m not one to toss absolutes around. Not settled on my round one crush yet, but he makes the short list so far.

  • Michael James

    Didn’t take it as trolling, I love those draft conversations.
    I also read Ledyard’s draft evaluations (I think the one about EDGEs is on ‘Inside The Pylon’). His opinion on Barnett is very similar to mine: He wins because he anticipates the snap perfectly, not because he has such an elite first step (like we already discussed). Ledyard also writes that Barnett is piss poor when he’s forced to move laterally in space. These are my main knocks on Barnett, too.
    Here’s the problem with snap anticipation: I doubt he can rely on anticipating the snap count nearly as much in the NFL, since all the OTs and QBs are professionals. If he continues trying to jump the snap count, he will be in for a rude awakening. So his far and away best trait will be taken away. He has to win on other ways and unfortunately he’s just about average in all the other areas that are important for a pass-rusher in the NFL to be honest.
    You’re 100% right about Charlton, he’s often the last man out of stance because he doesn’t time the snap count correctly. He has to clear that up, no question. However, I think he’s a much better athlete than Barnett (we will know for sure after the combine) and his ceiling is much higher. I also think Charlton’s snap count problems are much easier to clear up than changing the fact that one is a mediocre athlete like Barnett.

  • Ace

    Interesting. I guess I need to go back to DraftBd and take a look at some more film to see his space issues. I could see how relying on the snap count to gain that extra step could be a hindrance. Guess I just love that speed off the edge, even if he’s cheating a bit. All good points. My real hope is that Reddick, Harris and Barnett are all sitting there at 30. But lets say they are all gone and so is Takk and Taco. I see a pretty clear drop off after that first wave between them and say Watt or Smoot or Walker (which I really haven’t gotten a good look at yet, that’s just based off “expert” ranking). Any chance PS take a corner here in the first if that first wave of stud OLBs are gone? Not sure about you, but I see their biggest needs as Corner and EDGE.

  • Michael James

    100% agree about the needs. Corner and EDGE should be the top two priorities. I also think that there is a drop off, but there are several other guys I’ve come to like, Derek Rivers for example. I would take him in a heartbeat over guys like Watt, Smoot or Walker. I’ve talked about it repetitively (and this is the last time), but I see Walker as a late rounder. I really don’t think he will be a good player in the NFL at all.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I’m intrigued. Production vs the highest level is not something to sneeze at. This kid screams like a big mold of clay. SHAPE ME! HELP ME! TEACH ME! I have all the potential to help you murder QB’s!!! Strange to see that in someone with that much production. With the right coaching staff, and teachers, this guy could be a beast. But with the wrong, he could turn into a one trick pony who gets eaten up as OLineman see him coming. I’m on the fence here. But intrigued.