ED KRACZ: Could Derek Barnett be the next Reggie White?

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The following article is contributed by Ed Kracz NFL contributor for the Balance, Beat writer for the The Philadelphia Eagles and Calkins Media
ED KRACZ: Could Derek Barnett be the next Reggie White?

PHILADELPHIA — Had there been a roof, it would have blown off. This was the first outdoor draft in National Football League history so the ear-splitting noise that a crowd of about 80,000 gathered on the Ben Franklin Parkway simply rose to the heavens when it was announced the Eagles were on the clock.

After nearly 10 minutes passed, league commissioner Roger Goodell strode across the stage at the base of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the Rocky theme song blasting.

Then came the pick: pass rusher Derek Barnett from the University of Tennessee.

Maybe someone up in the heavens heard the roars. Maybe even Reggie White himself heard them, because the late, great defensive end, who gave the Eagles so many great years and memories, must know Barnett.

It was Barnett who broke his sack record at Tennessee. The Nashville, Tennessee, native was the first freshman to start on the d-line for Tennessee in 2014, and he responded by having three straight double-digit sack seasons. If he can do that in the NFL, he could be this team’s next White.

It’s a tall order, though, especially because there are some knocks on him. Speed and burst are two.

But 32 sacks are 32 sacks.

“What Derek is proficient at is at the top of his rush, when Derek gets there, he has the bend and can finish,” vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said. “He can really close. He has a variety of moves, speed, he can use power and he can finish when he gets to the top of the rush. I think there is a high ceiling for Derek. He’s going to get better, improve his hand technique. He said after he was drafted, he’s only scratching the surface of his potential and I fully expect him to reach it.”

There is no questioning that Barnett is a person of a high-character, and in this draft, where red flags popped up on players like a South Jersey beach when rip tides are present, that is saying something.

Running back Dalvin Cook was still on the board when the Eagles made their pick but several off-field incidents may have steered them away. Same with linebacker Reuben Foster. The Eagles could’ve had him but maybe the diluted urine sample during the NFL Scouting Combine scared them away.

“We’re real excited to get Derek,” executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. “He was the highest-rated player on our board. We’re always built along the lines but, at same time, take highest-rated guy. He fits our scheme, he fits our culture and I think we got a tremendous player and a tremendous person. Everyone in this city will see the kind of person he is. He has unbelievable character, a hard worker and is really productive.”

Pass rushers are hard to find, and the Eagles believe they found one.

He may not have tested well at the Scouting Combine but Douglas said that was the case with Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs. That didn’t stop Douglas’ employer at the time — the Ravens and Ozzie Newsome — from taking Suggs, who became the league’s defensive player of the year shortly after being drafted.

“Both players didn’t test outrageously well but both are highly productive players, high toughness, great people,” Douglas said. “Again, his production is unmatched.”

Roseman defended Barnett’s testing by saying that Barnett had the flu at the Combine and at his pro day he had a hamstring issue.

As expected, this draft was about as unpredictable as any in recent memory.

So many mock drafts had defensive players coming off the board early and often. It was the other way around. Seven of the first 10 picks were offensive picks.

For the Eagles, who are looking to complete the puzzle around quarterback Carson Wentz, that was not a good thing.

Three of the top 10 players were receivers who had all been heavily linked to the Birds: Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross. Another offensive player the Eagles no doubt coveted was Christian McCaffrey. The Stanford running back went to the Carolina Panthers, which was where most experts thought he would go.

The good news was, there were three trades before the Eagles’ turn came at No. 14. All three of those teams trading up took quarterbacks, which pushed talent down the board.

“We spent a lot of time going through scenarios and we did not have any scenarios with what happened here,” Roseman said. “It was real interesting how it went.”

When all that shuffling was complete, the Eagles had plenty of talent from which to choose, especially on defense. There was one offensive weapon they could’ve had and that was Alabama tight end O.J. Howard. Imagine a two-tight end set of him and Zach Ertz. That would’ve been scary.

In the end, though, defense was the direction they found too difficult to ignore.

They could have taken Alabama defensive tackle Johnathan Allen, who was the 2016 Chuck Bednarik and Bronco Nagurski Award on the nation’s top defense and had 10.5 sacks. Maybe if Allen was an end, he would have been the pick, because there was a clear need on the edge after the release of Connor Barwin.

So it’s one down and seven more picks to go.

The next two come Friday night, where the Birds own the 43rd and 99th overall picks.

Maybe the puzzle piece around Wentz will come then. Maybe a cornerback or two.

“There are a lot of different turns and twists as we go forward,” Roseman said, “but this is a good start for the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Ed Kracz: 215-949-3070; ekracz@calkins.com; @kracze

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