Derek Barnett outdid Reggie White in sacks at Tennessee. Yet the pros aren’t sold on the Volunteers defensive end.
Barnett has heard his name mentioned in conjunction with Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett throughout his three-year college career. They began their careers at the same time, played in the same conference and had similar production . Now that they’re both ready for the NFL, Garrett is the likely No. 1 overall pick in this month’s draft. Barnett probably won’t get taken until later in the first round.
The problem for Barnett is a perceived lack of length and athleticism in comparison to the draft’s other top pass rushers. Of course, that didn’t stop him from overtaking White as Tennessee’s all-time sacks leader . Barnett has a quick response whenever his so-so 40-yard dash time comes up.
“I think I’m pretty fast on the field,” Barnett said. “I’m pretty confident in that.”
“He does not have elite burst, that explosiveness that you’d like to have in an edge rusher,” said Daniel Jeremiah, a former NFL scout who now works as a draft analyst for NFL Network. “Some teams are more beholden to those numbers than others, so some teams aren’t as high on him. But when you study the tape and watch him, I think he’s one of the top 15 or so players in this draft class.”
Barnett’s 33 career sacks broke a school record White owned since 1983. Barnett’s 52 tackles for loss were one away from Leonard Little’s school mark.
For comparison’s sake, Garrett finished his Texas A&M career with 32 ½ sacks and 48 ½ tackles for loss. In SEC competition, Barnett had 29 sacks and Garrett had 12.
Barnett doesn’t measure up as well in some other respects.
At the combine, Garrett ran the 40 in 4.64 seconds; Barnett’s time was 4.88. Barnett followed that with a 4.89 at Tennessee’s pro day . That helps explain why Garrett and other pass rushers such as Stanford’s Solomon Thomas are expected to hear their names called before Barnett.
NFL Network analyst Charles Davis considers Barnett a “likely first-round pick, probably middle of the first round on.”
“The reason he and Garrett don’t match up in terms of what you look at in the NFL is that athletically, Derek Barnett is not going to be anywhere close to Myles Garrett,” Davis said. “That’s not his thing. That’s not his game. He’s not going to win a shorts and T-shirt battle. But he’s quick off the football. He knows how to get to the passer. I think he’s going to continue to add to his pass-rush skills as he goes along. No one’s going to play harder every snap.”
Barnett was a defensive end in Tennessee’s four-man front, but also says he could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He measured in at 6-foot-2 7/8 inches and 264 pounds at Tennessee’s pro day.
He’s hoping teams will examine what he accomplished on the field rather than focusing on how fast he runs or how high he jumps.
“That’s out of my control,” Barnett said. “It’s not like college where I get to pick where I want to go. I think I have three great years of film playing here (at Tennessee). I think I went through this training pretty good. Now it’s up to the teams to make a decision.”
Other pass rushers have produced solid pro careers after facing similar questions.
“I was around Terrell Suggs a little bit with the Ravens, who’s another guy that didn’t test all that well,” said Jeremiah, a former Baltimore scout. “But man, he was plenty fast enough when you got on the football field. I think you see some of those same things with Barnett. I don’t think he’s quite at that Suggs level, but I think he’s definitely got a chance to be a double-digit sack guy at the next level.
“I’d be shocked if he’s not off the board by the 20th pick.”