Derek Barnett, Tennessee’s career sack leader, had a memorable rookie season in the NFL. Not only did he have a solid year on the field himself, but his team, the Philadelphia Eagles, finished the year off by winning the Super Bowl. His team got their ultimate goal, but an NFL analyst believes Barnett is due for an even greater individual season this next year.
Lance Zierlen of NFL.com put together a list of the five 2017 NFL first-round draft picks who could be in store for breakout campaigns in 2018. And one of the first players he mentioned was Barnett.
After posting 21 tackles and five sacks as a rookie, Barnett will look to build off that strong first step into the league next year. And Zierlen thinks he’ll have plenty of opportunity to do so on the Eagles’ defensive front.
“Barnett played in just 41.6 percent of the defensive snaps, but with the Eagles releasing Vinny Curry this offseason, he should see a lot more playing time in 2018, even though Philadelphia still has good depth at the position,” Zierlen wrote. “Barnett is more of a technician than speed rusher off the edge, so he ran into much more traffic than he was used to as he transitioned to battling NFL offensive tackles. Barnett has quick, strong hands and finds efficient paths to the quarterback. His season as an understudy likely gave him the experience he needed to help convert a higher percentage of his rushes into hurries and sacks.”
Vol fans know all about how effective Barnett can be as a pass rusher. The former All-American and All-SEC performer holds Tennessee’s career sack record with 33 career sacks, and he passed former Vol legend and former Eagles player himself Reggie White in the Vols’ last game of the 2016 season in the Music City Bowl.
Even with Philadelphia’s depth along the defensive line still stout, Barnett could work his way into the starting spot at defensive end in his second season. Recent trade acquisition Michael Bennett is still not at Philadelphia’s OTAs, and Barnett could use that to his advantage.
Last season, the Eagles were in the middle of the pack in the NFL during the regular season in terms of total sacks. Philadelphia totaled 38 sacks as a team, tying them with NFC East rival Dallas for 15th in the league. The Eagles are hoping their top choice in the 2017 NFL Draft will help them improve those numbers this year, and the former Vol great certainly has it in him to do so.