Over the next four weeks, we’ll be counting down the 20 most important Eagles for the 2020 season.
It’s hard to believe but Barnett is entering the fourth year of his rookie contract. The 2017 first-round pick was extremely young coming into the NFL and he doesn’t turn 24 until later this month.
Earlier this offseason, we again listed Barnett as a breakout candidate. Because while he’s been a serviceable player during his three seasons, he hasn’t produced like a first-round pick is supposed to. In his three NFL seasons, Barnett has 14 sacks.
The good news for Barnett is that he had his best NFL season in 2019, finishing with 6 1/2 sacks, 30 tackles, 22 QB hits and 2 forced fumbles. And at times he shows flashes of a guy who looks like he might turn into a great player.
And for the first time in a few years, Barnett hasn’t needed to use his offseason to rehab. That’s a big deal.
This will be Barnett’s third season as the full-time starter at defensive end. Unless the Eagles decide to switch sides, it’ll be Brandon Graham on the left side of the defensive line and Barnett on the right. For Barnett, that means another year of facing premier left tackles.
The reason Barnett is important is because there isn’t a ton of depth behind him right now. He and Graham are the starters and the top backup is former fourth-round pick Josh Sweat, who played well at times during 2019. Vinny Curry is still a free agent.
Remember, in the last couple seasons, the Eagles have had guys like Michael Bennett, Chris Long and Vinny Curry as experienced backup defensive ends. They don’t have that right now unless you expect Malik Jackson to move from defensive tackle, which might not be totally realistic.
To put it simply: Barnett has to stay healthy in 2020 and he has to produce.
Those things go hand in hand. During his three years in the league, Barnett has struggled to stay healthy. In 2018, it looked like he was ready to have a big season. He had 2 1/2 sacks through four games but hurt his shoulder in Tennessee. He tried to tough it out but after two subpar games opted for surgery. And last year, he battled through a pretty serious ankle sprain, which likely hindered his production.
It’s great that Barnett is tough — Jim Schwartz said Barnett is one of the toughest players he’s ever been around — but that’s not enough. In order for Barnett to be at his best, he needs to be healthy. This is likely frustrating because it’s not all in his control.
To me, Barnett is one of the more underrated players on this team. He’s definitely not a bust, but he also hasn’t lived up to expectations. If he can change that in 2020, it would be huge for the Eagles.
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