Derek Barnett Has Chance to Break Rookie Sack Record

By Jesse Larch, Sports Talk Philly staff writer 

"Not a sexy pick."

That was the phrasing used often to describe the Eagles selection of Derek Barnett at 14th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, although the Eagles have received mostly high grades for taking the record-breaking pass rusher from Tennessee.

This weekend, Eagles fans and members of the media will get their first glimpse of Derek Barnett in a football setting when the Eagles open rookie camp on May 14, where he figures to make a strong first impression. 

Despite Barnett's measurables, impacted by a bout with the flu shortly before the Combine, the Eagles first-round pick has a real chance to break Jevon Kearse's rookie sack record for a number of reasons.

It has been well documented that Barnett broke Eagles legend and NFL Hall of Fame inductee Reggie White's sack record at the university of Tennessee when he recorded 32 sacks in three seasons. 

His production is the first reason why he can make history again.

Barnett registered more sacks than any player in this year's draft, which included prospects who played for four seasons in college. Barnett showed a truly elite ability to hit the quarterback consistently in just three seasons of play. 

The second reason is an extension of Barnett's production, and that is that the rookie faced a high level of competition during his time at Tennessee. 

Barnett was downright dominant against the Southeastern Conference, widely considered the best division of college football in the country. He faced SEC teams 18 times over his three years at Tennessee. recording an eye-popping 42 tackles for loss and 28 sacks. 

As Jimmy Kempski of the Philly Voice notes, Barnett also played well against the top left tackles in the country:

Barnett proved time and time again that is more than capable of playing well against the top competition in the country. 

Barnett's health was equally as reliable as his on-field production. Barnett did not miss a game in college, playing in all 39 games that he was eligible to play in. 

Barnett should be expected to perform well this season because of the performance of last season's defensive rookie of the year: Joey Bosa.

Scouts see a lot of similarities in Bosa and Barnett. Barnett plays a game reliant on hustle and technique. Bosa was criticized for the same traits, with scouts wondering how that skill set would translate to the NFL. 

NFL.com draft expert Bucky Brooks offered his opinion on Barnett and Bosa's similarities:

"Remember, Joey Bosa displayed similar traits and we questioned whether he could sustain his play as a pro. Yet, he claimed the Defensive Rookie of the Year award with a blue-collar game built on grit, hustle, and technique. With Barnett showing nearly identical skills, I believe the football world should pay closer attention to the best football player that no one is talking about."

Bosa only played 12 games last season, but he tallied 10.5 sacks. In college, Bosa had 26 sacks in 37 games. Barnett was considerably more productive as a college player, and with a nearly identical skill set, Barnett could be poised for an equally impressive rookie campaign. 

Barnett will also have the advantage of being in a rusher-friendly defense with exceptional teammates. 

Jim Schwartz deploys a wide-nine technique that provides an advantage to edge rushers by lining them up at an extreme angle that causes problems for the players tasked with blocking the rushers.

For an example of the effectiveness of this scheme, Jason Babin played in this technique under Jim Washburn in Tennessee and Philadelphia during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. In those two seasons, Babin had the best two seasons of his 14-year career, accounting for 47.2 percent of his 64.5 career sacks. 

If a player can flash in this system to that degree, then a player with the pedigree of Barnett should flourish as well. 

Barnett will also have the advantage of facing single coverage often. Barnett will be playing next to two all-pros in Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. Cox draws a double-team on almost every single down, while Graham will likely draw additional attention as well from the tight end. 

New addition Tim Jernigan is also a better pass rusher than his predecessor Bennie Logan, although Logan was a more efficient run stopper.

With Barnett virtually guaranteed one-on-one battles in his rookie season, he will have an advantage that most first-round pass rushers do not.

While none of this guarantees that Barnett will add another record to his resume, or even be successful, Barnett is in perhaps the most favorable situation of any recent pass rusher heading into his rookie season. Combine that with his historic collegiate production, and there is reason to believe that Barnett can continue to be successful at a historic level in the NFL.

Jevon Kearse set the rookie sack record in 1999 when he brought the quarterback down 14.5 times. Now Derek Barnett will try to put another legend in his rear-view mirror.