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Player Profile: Derek Barnett, Why Did The Eagles Bring Him Back?

Let’s take a trip back to 2017.

The Eagles have the 14th selection of the NFL Draft. After shipping Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia acquired the selection that would eventually become Derek Barnett. The franchise snagged the man who surpassed the Tennessee career sack record of the “Minister of Defense” and Eagles royalty, Reggie White.

The City of Philadelphia held their breath in anticipation of their next dominant edge rusher.

Alas, they would be disappointed.

Collegiate Career

Barnett was nothing short of a productivity machine at the collegiate level.

Despite lacking the prototypical arm length and size of a dominant edge defender, the Tennessee prospect was exceptionally productive. He utilized attributes such as terrific hand usage, natural bend and terrific get-off to be a relentless disrupter at the college level. His ability to dip his shoulder, while disarming tackles with his hands, was simply marvelous.

Barnett’s highlights, whilst exciting and promising, offered some immediate concerns. Worryingly, almost every sack followed the same trajectory. Barnett would utilize his elite get-off to get position over the tackle. Then, he would swipe through with his excellent hand use, disarm the tackle as he dipped and then explode around them.

While incredibly fluid and fun to watch, his lack of a consistent counter move shown in his successful plays offered some concern about his potential area of exposure at the next level.

Derek Barnett would not get away with a limited arsenal of moves at the next level. However, he showed the traits that suggested he would be able to develop into a diverse and relentless pass rushing edge at the next level.

In juxtaposition, there was no disputing his production. Barnett not only exceeded Reggie White’s record of total career sacks with 32 in just three seasons, he also added a gargantuan 52 tackles for loss. He even managed to accumulate five passes defended and an interception in his final season at Tennessee.

His collegiate career certainly bore the realistic potential of premium talent in the NFL.

Barnett’s Contribution In Philadelphia

Derek Barnett’s career in Philadelphia has not met expectations.

If we rewind to Super Bowl LII, most of the Eagles’ fanbase feel indebted to the Tennessee product. In the clutch moments of the fourth quarter, the then-rookie’s fumble recovery sealed victory. The play saw the Lombardi Trophy brought to Philadelphia for their very first Super Bowl win. It was integral and capped off a solid rookie season that saw him credited with 37 total pressures, 21 hurries and six sacks by PFF.

Barnett’s solid play continued throughout his career but has had significant caveats. He has never finished the season with a greater PFF pass rush grade than 66.5. Conversely, he has not dipped below 60 in the same category. Moreover, his run defense has fluctuated between a PFF grade of 66 and 76.4.

This remarkable consistency of solid play is valued as a productive and versatile rotational piece. Unfortunately, his penchant for penalties and undisciplined mishaps made him far from reliable.

In 2021, Barnett had arguably his worst season as a pro. He only managed 2.0 sacks on the year, while racking up eight penalties (one in the playoffs). Four of these penalties were personal fouls. This frustrating lack of discipline wore thin on Eagles fans, who far too often saw Barnett make foolish, costly mistakes.

In summary, Barnett’s career can be encapsulated by one alarming statistical comparison. Although it does not explore the true nuance of his game, it shows the lack of discipline that has littered his career with negativity:

Barnett’s sack total in his career is 21.5, which is exceeded by his appalling 26 career penalties.

Let that sink right in.

Why Was He Brought Back?

In a puzzling move for, Barnett was brought back on a two-year deal.

The Eagles are notorious for their relentless investment in the trenches on both sides of the ball. As a result, the front office seemed to place value in Barnett’s steady contribution against the run and the pass. Evidently, they saw the impact of the veteran’s continuity with the team and jack-of-all-trades impact on the game. They clearly have faith in his ability to mitigate his penalty issues while hopefully improving his production at the same time.

Barnett’s career has been mired with injuries. A torn rotator cuff and lower body issues have caused him to miss games and play with reduced effectiveness. Thus, while the argument can be made that the money invested may have been better spent elsewhere, Barnett may still have some untapped potential. At the same time, the Eagles’ likely transition to a 3-4 or hybrid defensive front should allow him to be utilized in a variety of stances that may assist his effectiveness.

So, Eagles fans. I implore you to give Barnett one last chance. While we may throw our hands up at his undisciplined personal fouls or his lack of sack production, let’s let him have one more year. Hopefully, after a chance to get healthy and play with an absolutely loaded defensive front, Barnett can make it all click.

If not, the Eagles have an out after the first year of his deal. Thus, he must produce now to ensure that he is kept as a rotational piece at a minimum.

Let’s hope for his sake that he can.

What do you think? Will Barnett’s signing be one the Eagles regret? Let us know in the comments below.

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