The defensive EDGE rusher has become as important as the quarterback in today’s NFL. Each team needs an edge rush to have a successful defense, and ideally, each defense needs a primary edge rusher as a leader of the group.
While the Jaguars are on their way to potentially having a good pass rush with Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson, and Abry Jones playing three of the four defensive line spots, they still are missing an elite pass rusher across from Ngakoue.
Plenty of fans believe Dante Fowler Jr. is the future at defensive end opposite of Ngakoue. I disagree, he didn’t prove much of anything as a defensive end last year, but I thoroughly believe Fowler Jr. can thrive as a strong-side linebacker — he has flashed as a standing pass rusher and would still be able to set the edge against the run as an under-SAM LB, plus played well in flats coverage during his time at the University of Florida.
I think the “answer” opposite of Ngakoue can be found in this year’s draft class. Whether it be Jonathan Allen, Myles Garrett (if he somehow fell to four), Solomon Thomas, or Malik McDowell with the fourth pick, or perhaps someone like Carl Lawson, Charles Harris, or someone else in the second round, there’s a ton of talent in the EDGE prospect group this year.
However, if there’s one edge rusher I’m against the Jaguars drafting early, it’s University of Tennessee’s defensive end Derek Barnett.
Barnett, the three year starter for the Volunteers, has the college production that catches everyone’s attention: 32 sacks, 52 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles. However, this is the perfect case of production not meaning everything. When I watch Barnett’s tape, I simply don’t see the skills that are necessary for pass rushers to translate into the NFL.
When I grade pass rushers, I look for five traits that I deem important in order to be successful in transitioning into the NFL: Power, bend, balance, speed, and step. Realistically, if an edge rusher can strike off 3+ of those boxes, I’m confident they can make the transition, and from there I judge their production and performance against higher level talent (as in, playing an SEC left tackle vs. an FCS left tackle) as to where I rank them in terms of where they should be drafted.
Barnett checks off the “power” box, and gets half credit in the “bend” box, and gets a late second/early third round draft grade for me. While he doesn’t present the skills I seek, his production and level of competition raises his stock.
The power is there:
Although this isn’t a sack, the 6-3, 265 lbs defensive end pushes the blocking H-back about three yards back on one arm extension almost in to the QB’s body. This is exceptional strength and easily helps Barnett’s case for checking off the “power” box.
Another example of Barnett’s power can be seen below, this time where he powered through the Kentucky left tackle for a sack:
For an EDGE rusher of Barnett’s size, power is an expected strength, and a strength of Barnett’s it is.
The next trait that Barnett is okay with is his bend. I gave him a half check in this box because his bend is inconsistent, but at some times it’s there when he rushes:
Barnett gets under the tackle and keeps his feet here for the sack. It’s not a consistent part if his game, however:
This time, Barnett goes against projected first round pick Cam Robinson at left tackle, and can’t create any bend — he’s quickly removed from being a factor. My take is that Barnett can bend decently well based on his size alone, but struggles doing so against tougher competition with proper mechanics.
What halts Barnett from having consistent bend is his poor balance:
Barnett stumbles after first contact here and can’t ever seem to get his head back up. He ends up in the way of his 4i defensive lineman, who had the best chance to sack the QB, and the pass ends up completed to the running back.
Struggling with balance is a bad sign for someone of Barnett’s size, and that’s a red flag for transitioning into the NFL.
Speed isn’t Barnett’s best trait either, and that comes down to his size as well. Speed combined with power for someone his size is deadly in the NFL, but without carrying the speed aspect, Barnett lacks explosion needed to beat NFL offensive linemen. It will be interesting to see how he performs at the NFL Combine, but my hopes aren’t too high for his speed and agility drills.
My final check box (Barnett check at 1.5/4 so far) is step, perhaps Barnett’s biggest issue. Barnett is consistently late off of the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped:
Note: On this above play, Barnett doesn’t attack, rather seems to wait in the flats, but is still the last player off the line by a mile.
In this above play, the QB is already turned around and ready to deliver the ball to the running back before Barnett moves. This is an awful trait to possess when moving from college to the NFL, and Barnett consistently displays it.
Final checks: 1.5/5.
Now, does this make Barnett undraftable? Absolutely not. Pass rushers can lack ideal traits in order to transition and still find solid roles in the NFL. Barnett still flashed some bend and has elite college production that not only does, but should intrigue teams.
I think the best place for Barnett to go is a team who already has a “face” for their pass rush who takes on the best tackle and have Barnett play the opposite side or in a rotation. However, considering his role would be limited and he wouldn’t be “the guy” as an EDGE rusher, wouldn’t touch him with a first round pick, and rather I’d take him in the late second round or early third round.
My pro comparison for Barnett is Derrick Shelby, the Atlanta Falcons defensive end, although I don’t base it off of Shelby’s time in Atlanta (he got hurt early on this season) and rather his time in Miami. Shelby, the 6-3, 280 lb end rotated in with Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon and totaled nine sacks over three years. While the pro production doesn’t equal out to Barnett’s in college, his strengths as a power player against the pass and run with speed, explosion, and balance issues, all going with size and my projected use, make the two players comparable.
All in all, although I think Barnett can be a serviceable player elsewhere, he should definitely not be in consideration the first or second round picks for the Jaguars (four and 35), as they need a “face” for there pass rush, and to address other needs such as offensive line and secondary with whichever pick they don’t use on EDGE rusher.