This week, I’ll be taking a closer look at five young Eagles who have a chance to enjoy a “breakout season” in 2019.
Up first: Derek Barnett
How acquired: 2017 first-round pick
Entering: Year 3
You could really argue that Barnett had already started his breakout season in 2018 but got hurt. His torn rotator cuff forced him to get surgery and end his season far too early.
His numbers in 2018 didn’t look great; he had 16 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks in six games, but those last two games he was already hurt. So, I’m going to break down his shortened 2018 season even more. In four games, before the injury, Barnett had 13 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks; he was the Eagles best defensive end to that point. (He played his last two games of 2018 with a bum shoulder after missing a week.)
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in May noted that Barnett was playing at a high level before the injury in 2018.
“With him,” Schwartz said, “it’s a matter of picking up where he left off.”
So Barnett was on pace for a season with 52 tackles and 10 sacks. That might not sound elite, but just 10 players in the league put up those numbers last season: Aaron Donald, J.J. Watt, Danielle Hunter, Dee Ford, T.J. Watt, Jason Pierre-Paul, DeForest Buckner, Bradley Chubb, Calais Campbell and DeMarcus Lawrence. I’m not suggesting Barnett was — or will be — as good as some of those players, but he was on pace to be in their company.
Maybe it’s unfair to extrapolate Barnett’s production from four games to an entire season — it is a relatively small sample size — but this is a guy who went in the first round for a reason. He has that type of talent. So I’m more inclined to believe what I saw in those four games is real, that Barnett was starting to tap into the talent that made him the 14th pick in 2017, as opposed to thinking he was off to a flukey good start to 2018. In fact, he went sack-less in his first two starts of 2018 and had 2 1/2 in Week 3 and Week 4 before the injury, so you can even argue he was still trending up before he got hurt.
And we know Barnett will have opportunity. Despite missing spring practices as he continues to recover from that shoulder surgery, Barnett is going to be a starter this season and he’s going to play a ton. Barnett and Brandon Graham are the Eagles’ starters, while Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat and possibly Shareef Miller are set to be their backups. The Eagles aren’t nearly as deep at the position as they were a year ago, when they began the season with Michael Bennett and Chris Long coming off the bench, so they’re really counting on Barnett to have a big year.
And head coach Doug Pederson last month specifically praised Barnett for working hard to return from his injury. It’s kind of hard to stand out when you’re injured, but Barnett did it this spring.
The crazy thing is that Barnett, who already has two NFL seasons under his belt, just turned 23 on June 25. The Eagles have three rookies this summer who are 24. Because he was a first-round pick, the Eagles have control of Barnett’s rights through the 2021 season, at which time he’ll still be just 25 with five years of experience. If 2019 is a breakout season for Barnett, the Eagles could be getting a great player for a long time.
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