Derek Barnett has followed Reggie White to Philadelphia after breaking the Minister of Defense’s sack record at Tennessee.
The Eagles selected the defensive end with the No. 14 pick in the NFL draft Thursday, upgrading their pass rush after spending most of the offseason improving the offense.
Barnett had 32 sacks in three seasons at Tennessee. The Eagles and their fans can only hope he compares to White, a Hall of Famer who was a dominant force on Buddy Ryan’s defenses in the late 1980s.
“He’s a legend. I know how big he is here,” Barnett said. “It’s crazy how everything plays out. I couldn’t even guess I was going to come here and Reggie White played here, you know what I’m saying? He probably is the greatest defensive lineman to ever play the game.”
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Barnett didn’t test well in the pre-draft process, but the Eagles need a player to consistently put pressure on quarterbacks. Fletcher Cox led the team with 6½ sacks in 2016.
“What Derek is highly proficient at is at the top of his rush,” said Joe Douglas, vice president of player personnel.
“So when the D-lineman gets to the top, he is excellent. Excellent ankle flexion, excellent ability to bend at the top and finish. He can close,” Douglas said. “And he uses a variety of moves. He uses the speed rush. He can use power.”
Eagles personnel boss Howie Roseman said when Douglas walked in his office in December to rave about Barnett, he pulled out a piece of paper to show him he had already written Barnett’s name down.
“He fits the scheme, he fits the culture we’re trying to build,” Roseman said. “I think we have a tremendous player and a tremendous person.”
Barnett said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz compared him to Baltimore Ravens star rusher Terrell Suggs.
“I think I’m a relentless ball player,” Barnett said. “I don’t give up on plays. I think I’m pretty consistent, too. I know how to get to the quarterback. Also, I can help the run there.”
Hometown fans chanted “E-A-G-L-E-S” throughout the night at the steps of Philadelphia’s famed art museum. They weren’t quite as enthusiastic when Barnett’s name was called, but cheered him on as he made his way around.
“I appreciate the love I’ve been receiving already,” he said. “It’s been crazy. I heard the fans are passionate.”
The Eagles entered the draft desperate for defensive help, especially at cornerback. Both starters from last year are gone and they also lost starting defensive tackle Bennie Logan in free agency and his replacement, Beau Allen, was injured.
They gave Carson Wentz some help by signing wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency. They’ll look to add a running back in the next two days, but must address needs in the secondary.
“We committed to building the lines,” Roseman said.