Birds Under 24 Analysis: Derek Barnett

Preface: First things first, Derek Barnett recovered the fumble that sealed the Eagles’ first ever Super Bowl victory. For that reason, we will always love Derek Barnett. Here is a preview of quite possibly the most important member of the Philadelphia Eagles next season (not named Carson Wentz, of course).

Major changes are coming for the Eagles’ defensive line this season. Michael Bennett and Chris Long are gone, Brandon Graham is 31, and the Eagles are relying on a breakout season from Derek Barnett. Here is a fun fact: Derek Barnett has more total QB hits (27) than Brandon Graham. It’s a huge year for Derek Barnett to take that next step in his development, and the Eagles are poised to reap the rewards.

2018/19 Summary

A torn rotator cuff forced Derek Barnett onto the IR during October 2018. Prior to the injury, Derek Barnett started the first six games of the season and finished with 17 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, 14 QB hurries, and 11 QB hits. Barnett saw the majority of his snaps on the field during first and second downs where he excelled in helping against the run.

Derek Barnett’s 2018 season was riddled with potential and, quite honestly, missed opportunity. In my opinion, Barnett performed widely better than the 2.5 sacks (Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota) indicated on his stat sheet. Derek was easily the Eagles’ most efficient pass rusher after the first four games of the season last year, and it was difficult watching that come to an end.

Overall, Barnett has had many flashes of brilliance in his two years with the Philadelphia Eagles. This is year three, and the Birds are expecting big things for the edge pass rusher. If Barnett can maintain the same numbers through a full, healthy regular season, then Derek could become one of the best pass rushers in the NFC.

Areas to Improve

Injuries. The injury bug has not been kind to Derek Barnett’s first two years in the NFL. The bad news? Derek Barnett missed a big chunk of last season with a torn rotator cuff. The good news? It’s not an ankle or knee injury that should bring cause for concern during training camp starting next week. Even in 2017, Barnett required surgery for a sports hernia immediately after the Super Bowl.

Expectations. Has Derek Barnett lived up to expectations? Probably not. Barnett was the 14th pick and broke Reggie White’s sack record while playing for Tennessee. Doug Pederson has praised Derek Barnett for the amount of hard work he has put in this offseason to get ready for 2019. It’s time for Derek Barnett to step into the limelight.

Role for 2019

Derek Barnett fits Jim Schwartz’s scheme perfectly. He’s a bull rusher who is a technician with his strong hands and handwork. The departures of Chris Long and Michael Bennett open the door for Derek to step right in on the first day of Training Camp and make a huge impression.  

When you look back at 2018, especially during the second half of the season, Chris Long and Michael Bennett were major playmakers and leaders for the defense. I have no doubt that this is the role Derek Barnett is expected to fulfill for 2019 as he plays opposite Brandon Graham on the defensive end. Derek Barnett will be counted on as a starter this season.

The Eagles are shockingly thin at defensive end. In addition to Barnett, the Eagles are expecting Shareef Miller, Vinny Curry, and Josh Sweat to get a lot of snaps. There are rumors that Connor Barwin is in talks with Howie Roseman to return to Philadelphia. I have a feeling that the Eagles will first wait to see how ready Derek Barnett is and how quickly he can take that next step when Training Camp starts next week.

2019 Season Expectations and Predictions

Derek Barnett is a prime candidate to have a breakout season in 2019. As long as he stays healthy, we have a solid-to-elite pass rusher on the Eagles. There were plenty of flashes shown during his rookie and sophomore years to make us believe this. Before his shoulder injury, Barnett was on pace for 10 sacks and 52 tackles last season. What should we expect for 2019?

Derek Barnett just turned 23 and is entering his third season with the Birds. I don’t expect Pro Bowl status for Barnett. But let’s be clear, I’m very high on Barnett. I expect him to have a very solid season and show that he can be a legitimate piece of the rotation at defensive end. I think he ends up with anywhere between 6-8 sacks next year and continues to be a dynamic playmaker during crucial moments in the game. 8 sacks for Barnett would double the amount that Brandon Graham finished with last season.

Is Barnett Brandon Graham 2.0 or can he be something more? One thing is for sure: expectations for Derek Barnett couldn’t be any higher. Make sure to follow @BlueRouteTPL for everything player development across Philly sports and @EaglesTPL for everything Eagles Training Camp beginning next week