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NFL Draft 2017 Prospect Profile: Defensive End Derek Barnett

A closer look at a potential 2017 draft pick for the Cowboys, defensive end Derek Barnett.

NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Tennessee vs Nebraska Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next three months, we’ll be looking at prospects in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft from a decidedly Cowboys point of view. Taking the Cowboys current personnel, draft position, scheme, and needs into consideration; defensive line, linebacker, defensive backs, as well as complementary offensive pieces at wide receiver, tight end, and perhaps right tackle, we hope to profile the majority of the potential prospects that could realistically end up as Cowboys within the first two rounds. Once the “official visits” start to leak we’ll add prospects that are possibilities in the later rounds.

Today’s Prospect

#9 Derek Barnett - Defensive End - Tennessee - 6-3, 265

College Stats:

Games Watched: Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M, Nebraska

Pros: Plays with refined pass-rush technique and excellent hand-usage, it’s rare to see a collegiate defensive end that is this developed at such a young age. Has an excellent dip/rip move, also shows a good swim move and bull rush. Very strong hands, able to stack and shed offensive linemen with ease. Has good bulk for the position and usually was able to overpower collegiate offensive linemen. Plays with excellent balance, does a nice job of dipping his shoulder and “getting small” around the edge once he’s captured the offensive tackle’s outside shoulder. Has a natural ability to flatten around the edge and closes quickly on the quarterback once he’s beaten the tackle, has good bend despite not having elite athleticism. Does a nice job of reading quarterbacks, has good timing/instincts as far as getting his hands into passing lanes for deflections. Has an impressive first step and “get off” despite not being a quick-twitch type of athlete, anticipates the snap well. Plays with a good motor when he’s locked in. Has experience playing on both the right and left side of the line, also stands up at times and even drops into coverage on occasion (he dropped into coverage about 20 yards downfield against Texas A&M WR Josh Reynolds on one play). Ultra-productive with 52 TFL and 32 career sacks. Was dominant this season against likely first-round left tackle Cam Robinson of Alabama. Broke Reggie White’s career sack record at Tennessee as a true junior. Plays with aggression and an edge.

Cons: Plain and simple, he isn’t an impressive or explosive athlete. Has limited change of direction and side-to-side agility. It’s unlikely that he will be able to overpower NFL linemen the way he did collegiate linemen, and his lack of top-end athleticism will be a concern. Struggles if his initial move is stopped, he’ll get stuck on blocks and doesn’t consistently show the ability to counter with a second pass-rush move due to a lack of suddenness. Not as good at setting the edge in the run game as his size would imply because he can get washed down the line if he doesn’t win off the snap. Doesn’t have great length, I’ll be curious to see what his arm length measures in at the Combine. Lacks speed and burst.

Highlights:

Strip Sack vs. Cam Robinson
Breaks Reggie White’s Sack Record
TFL vs. Florida
Pressure off the Edge vs. Nebraska
Interior Pressure Causes INT vs. Texas A&M
Pass Deflection vs. Florida
Drops Into Coverage on Josh Reynolds vs. Texas A&M
Sack vs. Florida

Conclusion: At this point in the process many prognosticators are projecting Barnett as a top-15 pick who may even go in the top-10. By and large I am trying to stick to prospects that are at least somewhat realistic possibilities either at 28 or in the second round. So why am I profiling Barnett? In short, he lacks elite, quick-twitch athleticism, and if he tests poorly at the Combine I think there is a possibility that his stock plummets.

If that does indeed happen, and if he is available at 28, it would be a dream come true in my mind. Everybody knows he lacks the quickness, speed, and athleticism that jumps off the tape, but there are aspects to his game that require a different type of athleticism that seem to largely go unnoticed. His natural ability to bend and flatten once he’s beaten the tackle to their outside shoulder, his balance, his first step and anticipation off the snap. He is much more refined than your average defensive end as far as pass-rush technique, and while some may view that as an indication of a prospect with a “low ceiling” who doesn’t have as much room for improvement as other prospects, I also think it is foolish to just assume that pass-rush technique can be taught and applied as naturally as Barnett is already doing it at just 20 years old (he turns 21 in June).

I do wonder how the Cowboys scouting department and coaching staff will view him though since Rod Marinelli puts such a premium on athleticism and speed. I could see him loving Barnett’s motor, first step, and developed hand usage/technique, but I could also see him writing him off due to his lack of “quick-twitch” off the edge. Whatever the case may be, if Barnett is there at 28 the Cowboys should not overthink it, he would be more than worthy of that selection even if he doesn’t fit the picture-perfect ideal of what a edge rusher looks like in Marinelli’s scheme. The only real question for me if he is available is if someone like Taco Charlton or Takkarist McKinley is also available, which way do you go?

Either way, the Cowboys would be exceedingly fortunate to find themselves in such a position.

Disclaimer:

I do not have access to coach’s film or anything of that nature, I just watch plenty of football (television broadcast version) and go off what I see out of a prospect. I started this odd fascination of mine in 2011 when I sent my breakdown and links to videos of Tyron Smith at USC to the excellent Cowboys blogger Bob Sturm (April 28, 2011 - Even More Tyron Smith Tape). Since then I’ve continued watching prospects closely, but I’ve never taken the initiative to actually formally write my thoughts until I became a writer for BTB. I hope that I can provide an interesting, and accurate perspective on prospects from a Cowboys-centric point of view.

Special thanks to DraftBreakdown for posting the videos that help provide a more an in-depth look at this year’s prospects.