Philadelphia Eagles rookie DE Derek Barnett’s eye-popping performance against the Dallas Cowboys in their 37-9 win wasn’t a shock, or at least it shouldn’t have been.
Coming into the game, Barnett ranked 5th among rookies in pass rush productivity by registering a pressure on 1 in every 10 pass rush snaps. Conversely, the Cowboys were down future Hall of Famer LT Tyron Smith, having to play Byron Bell in his place. In the previous week Bell filled in for Chaz Green after Green gave up 4 sacks and 7 pressures on 28 snaps. Bell somehow performed worse, allowing 2 sacks and 4 pressures on half the snaps.
With Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliot suspended, this setup a smash match-up for Barnett, who in rotation with DE Vinny Curry, would be fresh on passing downs.
After watching Barnett get drafted live in Philadelphia, I started a weeks long odyssey of watching every Barnett snap I could find from full games on YouTube. Instead of me trying to sell you into diving headlong into a plethora of clips, I’ll let Jimmy Kempsky from Philly Voice do the pitch.
“An Eagles fan by the name of Michael Kist put together an ongoing thread of Barnett clips in chronological order, designed to show his progression from freshman year to junior year, good and bad. Just click on the Twitter link below, and scroll for what has to be about 100 Barnett clips (I didn’t count them). It sounds like a lot, but you’ll find that you can get through them pretty quickly.”
Ongoing Thread… Eagles 14th Overall Selection TENN EDGE Derek Barnett Eagles 14th Overall Selection.
— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) April 30, 2017
(Note: It’s deeply regrettable that I didn’t notice repeating “Eagles 14th Overall Selection” in the tweet until I saw it cited in Jimmy’s article.)
Watching that many Barnett snaps, I believe I have a good feel for where he stood as a prospect. For a first-round lock, there were holes in Barnett’s game. He couldn’t consistently convert speed to power, his hands lacked polish, he hadn’t developed an inside counter to vertical sets, and there was a question if his “burst” was more a product of snap jumping. Barnett was, in fact, the most penalized defender in the NCAA for jumping offsides a multitude of times.
Ultimately, I thought Barnett left much on the table. Yes, I understand he broke Reggie Brown’s sack record at Tennessee. The reality is with better coaching or a more diverse move-set, he could’ve crushed it.
However, with every prospect, there’s a missing element that we fans and writers miss. What is the work ethic of a prospect? How receptive is he to coaching and can he learn quickly? These are known unknowns, and given Barnett’s success, I’m beginning to believe I didn’t know exactly how much was unknown about him.
I understand we aren’t here to analyze Barnett the prospect, rather Barnett the pro. I simply wanted to qualify my Tape Watching Merit Badge regarding the Tennessee product before clumsily transitioning into the meat and potatoes of this article.
One day I will add the 2017 season to the thread linked above, but for today, I have a singular purpose. In Week 11 against the Cowboys, Barnett dominated. For the week he was second among edge rushers in PFF’s pass rush productivity (22.7) by recording 2 sacks, 2 hits, and 6 pressures on 22 snaps.
Let’s go to the film room.
-1st Quarter, 0-0 Tie, 3rd & 3-
Barnett often saw a tight end lined up slightly detached from the LT. In this case it’s TE Jason Witten, who gives him a chuck before releasing into his route. This is done to allow OT Bell to get vertical in his set, with an aim towards taking away Barnett’s patented dip-and-rip. Remember the concern I had with Barnett converting speed-to-power in college? Looks solid here. He plays with his hands above his eyes and creates a push that nearly disrupts QB Dak Prescott’s throw.
-1st Quarter, 7-6 Eagles, 2 & 10-
Here Witten is lined up close to Bell, affecting the path in which Barnett can take to the Quarterback yet again. At the snap, however, Witten darts across the formation, giving a split zone look. This leaves Barnett one-on-one with Bell, giving Barnett a chance to show off his ability to bend against Bell’s pathetic and late “punch”. You could tell fairly early on Bell lacked the foot quickness/hands and would have issues affecting the arc.
-2nd Quarter, 7-6 Eagles, 2nd & 10-
The Cowboys figure if they can’t block ’em, use his aggression against him with a play action boot out of a three tight end set. No way the rookie sees it coming, right? Wrong. Barnett shows off some special change of direction ability that flashed in his 88th percentile 6.96 3-cone at the Combine.
Changing direction is one thing. Tackling the elusive Prescott in space is an entirely different beast, but Barnett stays aggressive and is able to hunt Dakota down like a dog.
-2nd Quarter, 7-6 Eagles, 3rd & 17-
Hey look another offensive player lined up in Barnett’s path. Good game-plan right? Possibly, but the Eagles have a double green dog going on the edges, meaning both Barnett and Long are responsible for containing Dak in the pocket with the option to “fire their gun” if the opportunity arises.
Barnett waits for RB Rod Smith to clear into his route and bang, the gun goes off. He closes quickly enough to affect the throw of Dakota, who forces one to Eagles CB Ronald Darby.
-2nd Quarter, 7-6 Eagles, 2nd & 6-
There were concerns about Barnett being a “one-trick pony”, overly dependent on his dip-and-rip for sacks. Here, he beats Bell to the punch, using his hands to get Bell on his heels before taking him to the pool for a swim.
-3rd Quarter, 15-9 Eagles, 3rd & 10-
With a 6 point lead and the Cowboys down in the sticks, this is where the Eagles front four really thrives. However, an issue I saw from Barnett in college rears it’s ugly head. Make no mistake, he has fantastic bend around the corner, but he hits such a hard angle when turning that there are times when even the slightest contact can force him up-field and cause him to lose his edge, as seen here.
-4th Quarter, 29-7 Eagles, 3rd & 5-
Before we get into this play, have you noticed a trend in how the Cowboys are trying to add extra protection to help their offensive line? If not, scroll back up, I’ll wait…
Here RB Rod Smith begins to release to the outside, possibly with the instruction to chip Barnett, possibly not. Either way, he gets a good jump at the snap, causing Bell to turn his butt perpendicular with the sideline, which is never good.
You can call the dip-and-rip the chip-and-dip because Barnett eats it up (to quote Jon Gruden, probably) and is able to sustain his bend just long enough to get his hand out and cause a fumble that is returned by LB Nigel Bradham for a touchdown.
In closing, it’s performances like this, in which you expect results but are still impressed by the development of Barnett, that have me excited for his future. He has shown a knack for incorporating new techniques with improved hand usage and an expanding move-set to attack offensive tackles and let’s remember, he’s still only 21 years old.
*If you enjoyed this Film Room session, check out our other deep dives into the tape:
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A look at the key matchups for Sunday’s matchup with the Cleveland Browns.
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Is this the game Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz finally get things right?
Wentz Wednesday: Week 11
On today’s Locked On Eagles:
Carson Wentz went from looking like Jameis Winston all year to Sam Bradford on Sunday
Evaluating the inconsistencies in Wentz’s throwing mechanics that were apparent against New York
Wentz deserves blame without always steering the attention to Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman
Doug and Howie on the hot seat?
On today’s Locked On Eagles:
Even in a first place position…..it is time to think big picture with the Eagles
Are Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman safe beyond 2020?
Should Jeffery Lurie continue to be patient or is a shake-up needed?