We’re nearly there, folks. The draft is next week, and the Falcons are completing their final visits with college prospects they might be interested in. There is still plenty of speculation surrounding the Falcons first round selection—will it be a G, an EDGE, a FS? Something else?
While there’s no way for us to know the team’s true intentions, we can tell who they’re curious about. One such player is Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, who piled up a staggering 33 sacks during his career. That mark passed the legendary Reggie White (32 sacks), making Barnett the career sack leader for Tennessee.
Let’s take a closer look at Barnett’s game.
EDGE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Barnett is a superb bender with excellent flexibility. He’s a smooth mover around the arc with a good first step burst. Routinely beats tackles by simply looping around them. Barnett possesses active, strong hands that are constantly fighting with opponents—demonstrated effective club and rip, and often used his hand technique to slip inside.
Asset against the run—knows his responsibility and tackles well. Barnett has a physical style of play and looks to deliver big hits whenever possible. He’s also a high-motor player, and will chase ball carriers that get behind him and relentlessly continue his rush if initial attempt stalls. Excellent football IQ—routinely sniffs out trick plays and screens, can handle coverage responsibilities. Plus awareness in the passing game and is always looking to bat passes and disrupt throwing lanes.
Outside of Barnett’s 3-cone, he’s otherwise a merely average athlete. He wins with his ability to bend and high motor and his ceiling may be somewhat limited in the NFL. Lacking in long speed and can struggle in pursuit of more athletic players. Aggressive rushing style sometimes leads to QB escaping through his gap. Can overshoot the QB at times or take too wide of an angle.
Barnett could stand to further develop his rush and add more counter moves to his repertoire. Often tries to jump the snap count which occasionally led to penalties—will having a tougher time doing that successfully in the NFL. Barnett is a tad on the small side for an NFL DE at 6’3, and could struggle with some of the bigger tackles he’ll face at the next level.
Grade: 1 (first-round)
Barnett is an ideal fit at the LEO position in Dan Quinn’s defense. He’s flexible and versatile enough to play standing up or with his hand in the dirt, and has shown he’s capable of handling the occasional coverage responsibility. As a pass rusher, he’s clearly one of the best in the 2017 draft. Despite his relatively average athletic ceiling, Barnett projects as a player that can absolutely get 6-10 sacks a year while providing strong run support.
He’s a high-motor, physical player that also clearly has the competitive spirit Quinn covets. A defensive line consisting of Derek Barnett, Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, and Dontari Poe has the makings of a potentially dominant pass rush in 2017 and beyond. Despite Barnett’s already-stellar production, he’s actually a very young player with a lot of room to grow. He could become an even greater threat with 2-3 years of seasoning.
The only problem is that he’s very unlikely to be available for the Falcons with the 31st pick. Atlanta would almost assuredly need to trade up into the early 20s to have any chance of selecting Barnett. However, strange things do happen on draft day, and it’s possible that teams decide to pass on him for EDGE players with higher athletic upside (Derek Rivers, Takkarist McKinley, Jordan Willis). If that should happen, Atlanta should sprint to the podium and be happy with an absolute steal at 31.
What do you think of Derek Barnett in Atlanta? Would you be ecstatic to see him available at pick 31? Who are some other EDGE players you are interested in?