Tennessee junior defensive end Derek Barnett has continued to shine for the Vols even over the last two weeks when Tennessee has fallen to Texas A&M and Alabama. And his performance over the last month has cemented his status as one of the best players in the country.
Barnett came into this season already considered one of the better defensive ends in college football. But his play since Tennessee entered SEC play has vaulted him into legitimate talk of being a top 10 NFL Draft pick for the 2017 NFL Draft.
Over the last four games, the Vols have played Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Alabama. All four of those teams were ranked at the time Tennessee played them, and both Texas A&M and Alabama were ranked in the top 10 (with Alabama coming in at No. 1). And in those four games, Barnett has totaled six sacks, forced two fumbles, defended two passes, and added an interception against Alabama on Saturday, picking off a Jalen Hurts pass that was batted in the air by defensive tackle Shy Tuttle.
On the season, Barnett has totaled 32 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 5 quarterback hurries, 2 forced fumbles, 2 pass breakups, and an interception. Barnett has done everything possible for Tennessee on defense other than score an actual touchdown.
In fact, Barnett has been getting love from national media members this season as well.
Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman has Barnett in his top five Heisman Trophy candidates based on his play thus far this season, and others have nothing but praise to heap on the junior defensive end.
Repeat what I said last week: Haven’t seen a college defender better than Derek Barnett. There are some in his league, but not better.
— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) October 15, 2016
Not sure there’s been one defender in America that has mean more to a defense than Derek Barnett this year for Vols
— Barton Simmons (@bartonsimmons) October 15, 2016
derek barnett is defensive player of the year at this point in the SEC
— Booger (@SECbooger) October 15, 2016
Barnett is now just seven sacks away from holding Tennessee’s all-time sack mark. Reggie White currently holds the record for the most sacks in a Tennessee career with 32. Barnett has upped his total to 26 with his six sacks this season. Barnett also has 44.5 tackles for loss in his 33 career games.
Since Barnett is Tennessee’s top defensive end, he’s almost always matched up with a team’s best offensive tackle. Barnett was matched up with Cam Robinson on Saturday, and Alabama’s consensus first-round projected NFL Draft pick had his hands full all afternoon trying to stop Barnett. And he’s done that time and again against top level left tackles.
The Vols have lost an alarming amount of players on defense this year. But Barnett has stepped up and done his best to elevate Tennessee’s defense this season, and he’s proven his worth time and time again in the process.