It’s not very controversial today to say that Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in the NFL. But there was a time when people weren’t so high on the dominant Rams defensive tackle. In the lead-up to the 2014 NFL Draft, Donald was a late riser after an impressive combine performance led scouts to watch his film at Pitt and fall in love with what they saw. Donald ended up being selected 13th overall by the then-St Louis Rams, and it’s fair to say that many of the teams who passed him up deeply regret that now.
Just to belabor the point, I went back and found three mock drafts from early on in the draft process - as we are now, in late January - that showed just how overlooked Donald was. This mock from Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, published after the 2013 regular season concluded, had Donald being selected in the early fourth round. A few weeks later, this mock from SB Nation’s Matthew Fairburn had Donald being taken with the final pick of the first round, while this one from Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke didn’t have him as a first rounder at all. By the time the draft actually rolled around, Miller’s final mock for Bleacher Report had Donald going at 14th overall, a pretty close assessment.
Of course, no one expected Donald to become the superstar he’s turned into, and it’s fair to say nobody should ever expect that from a draft pick anyway. But Donald was ignored early on, largely because the Pitt Panthers didn’t attract many eyeballs in the 2013 season when they finished 7-6. Thus, Donald’s impressive production was overlooked. This is all relevant to this year’s draft because it seems that another impressive defensive tackle prospect, Alabama’s Christian Barmore, is getting a similar treatment.
Now, there are some obvious caveats here that need to be gotten out of the way first. While I myself am high on Barmore, I am in no way saying he will be the next Aaron Donald, nor am I convinced that “the next Aaron Donald” even exists. This comparison is more of an exercise in learning from the errors of the past that led 12 teams to say “no thanks” to Donald. The reasons for Barmore being overlooked are also a bit different: he wasn’t a full-time starter until this season, although that has more to do with the talent he played behind (Quinnen Williams, Isaiah Buggs, and Raekwon Davis) than Barmore himself; and while Alabama won a national championship this year and received plenty of attention, most of the conversations centered around their elite offense, particularly Heisman-winning receiver Devonta Smith.
But Barmore has done plenty to not only distinguish himself as the best defensive tackle in this class, but as a game-wrecker who could very well be the best defensive player in this draft. Listed at 6’5” and 310 pounds, Barmore is a big dude who has played all over the line of scrimmage for Alabama and done a lot of different things. He mostly played as either a 3-technique or a 1-technique, both of which are frequently used in new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s scheme, as well as a 4-technique in some fronts. Barmore was at his most disruptive when asked to one-gap in a penetration attack, but also had plenty of two-gap responsibilities as well, making him a versatile chess piece. There’s also this eye-popping stat:
Most QB pressures among DIs in 2020:— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 24, 2021
1. Christian Barmore, Bama - 39
2. Cameron Thomas, SDSU - 37
3. C.J. Brewer, CCU - 33
4. Will Choloh, Troy - 31 pic.twitter.com/bWzegL31bU
For comparison, all of the Cowboys’ defensive tackles in 2020 had a total of 26 pressures between them. DeMarcus Lawrence and Aldon Smith, the team’s two leaders in pressures, had just seven more combined pressures than Barmore as well. It’s obviously not a perfect comparison because of the variances in quality of competition and offensive line play, but the fact that Barmore led the nation in pressures for interior defensive linemen while going up against a crop of future NFL offensive linemen is highly impressive.
Barmore also did more than just pressure the QB. He had 37 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, three passes defensed, and led the team with three forced fumbles. Barmore also showed up on the big stage, with huge performances in each of the Crimson Tide’s College Football Playoff games. Against both Notre Dame and Ohio State, Barmore totaled 17 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, and was constantly in the backfield on seemingly every play. Take, for example, this stop that Barmore made on a fourth down running play in the National Championship:
But that’s his only impressive tape. Check out these clips:
Christian Barmore's ability to get up and out of his stance is crazy when you take into account that he's 6'5/310 pounds. pic.twitter.com/bScsnVmZa7— Kyle Yates (@KyleYNFL) January 22, 2021
Christian Barmore has the highest ceiling of any DL prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. His length and hands are such a mismatch inside. Club-swim beats the center with ease here. pic.twitter.com/UtHEQYmKrv— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) August 22, 2020
He’s got a super small sample size thus far, but Christian Barmore has sky-high potential from the interior.— Carter Donnick (@CDonnick3) May 4, 2020
Extremely twitched up and played terrific in minor reps last year. Should step in for Raekwon Davis and be a more effective and disruptive player from that same role. pic.twitter.com/K06VbTgp6Q
Alabama iDL Christian Barmore starting to look like himself again! Minor knee issue coming into season. 6'5 310 RS-Sophomore from Philadelphia!@MoveTheSticks— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) October 11, 2020
42 snaps vs Ole Miss - highest graded Bama defender by @PFF_College. Flashed variety of skillsets/traits! #RollTide pic.twitter.com/uQj5ck7n7l
Currently, most mock drafts have Barmore being selected in the end of the first round or early in the second round, but I submit that, like with Donald, this is a prospect that will see a meteoric rise as his film is watched more and more. Dane Brugler of The Athletic listed him at 18 on his top-100 draft board earlier this month, and had this to say about the prospect:
Barmore has been my DT1 since the summer, but it was mostly based on potential until midway through the 2020 season when he started to play like one of the best interior defensive linemen in the country. Only a redshirt sophomore, he is still learning, but the traits are going to be enticing in the mid-first round.
The Cowboys have lacked a true, reliable difference-maker in the middle of their defensive line since Jay Ratliff, and the issues at the defensive tackle spot have been a big part of their porous run defense the last few seasons. Adding a talent like Barmore would not only give them a legitimate pass rushing presence in the middle, but a big and strong body to hold up in run defense as well. Barmore is the total package, and that’s the kind of talent you’re looking for with a top ten draft pick.