Eagles Insider

Will Barnett ever live up to expectations?

Eagles Insider
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It was hard to have any other reaction Monday when the news came out that Derek Barnett was hurt and was likely to miss at least a couple weeks of a preseason that’s not much longer than a couple weeks.

We keep saying, “He’s still young,” and we keep saying, “Once he’s healthy...” 

But we’ve been saying that stuff about Barnett for a while now.

It’s Year 4 now and with each passing injury and each passing mediocre season it’s impossible to ignore the possibility that this is all Barnett will ever be.

Injured and mediocre.

And if you think I’m being too hard on Barnett, he was the 14th pick in the 2017 draft, and you expect greatness out of someone taken in the first half of the first round. 

Barnett is hardly a bust, but he’s hardly elite.

He’s got 14 sacks in three seasons, including a career-high 6 1/2 last year.

For the record, Mike Mamula had 13 1/2 in his first three seasons. Just saying.

There have been 45 edge rushers drafted in the first half of the first round since 2000. Those 45 guys have averaged 15 1/2 sacks in their first three seasons. So Barnett is below average.

The bar isn’t very high when it comes to the Eagles drafting pass rushers in the first round.

When you’ve lived through Jerome McDougle, Jon Harris and Marcus Smith, 14 1/2 sacks in three years seems like a lot. 

All three were first-round picks, and they totaled nine sacks in an Eagles uniform. That’s almost incomprehensibly bad.


But when you take a guy at No. 14, you expect more than what we've gotten so far from Barnett.

There are 49 defensive ends who have more sacks since he came into the league (37 of whom were drafted later than No. 14).

We’ve seen Barnett shine at times. 

Obviously, recovering the Tom Brady fumble in the Super Bowl after the Brandon Graham strip sack was massive. He had a two-sack game as a rookie in Dallas and three sacks in the final three games last year during the stretch run.

But the inconsistency and the injuries are a concern. A sports hernia that required surgery in 2017, a shoulder injury that required surgery in 2018 and an ankle injury that hampered him the second half of last year. 

And now another injury serious enough to cost him at least a couple weeks of a shortened preseason and possibly cut into his regular season.

Barnett always plays hard. That’s never been the issue. He plays with tremendous force and intensity. But at 255 pounds, going against 320-pound tackles 50 snaps a game takes its toll, and that’s probably why he’s hurt so often.

Barnett also needs to develop a wider array of moves so all that intensity can produce more sacks and more consistent pressure. Maybe that’s why he’s on his third defensive line coach in three years.

The Eagles have to make a decision on Barnett at the end of the year. 

This is the final year of his four-year, $12.9 million rookie deal, and they’re going to have to figure out whether to re-sign him, keep him around for a year on a one-year tender that would be somewhere north of $10 million or just cut ties.

In the locker next to Barnett is Graham, living, breathing proof that a slow first few years doesn’t mean he won’t become a really good player.

And the Eagles may not have any choice but to re-sign Barnett, considering Graham and Vinny Curry are 32 and none of their other edge rushers — Josh Sweat, Daeshon Hall, Shareef Miller, Joe Ostman, Genard Avery, Casey Toohill — has any sort of proven track record.

The Eagles don’t have a great track record with this stuff.

They haven’t drafted a Pro Bowl defensive end since Trent Cole in 2005 and Clyde Simmons before that in 1986. And both were late-round picks.

In franchise history, they’ve taken 15 defensive ends in the first three rounds and not one of them ever made a Pro Bowl or had a 10-sack season as an Eagle.

I haven’t given up on Barnett. He is only 24. And if he can ever get healthy….

But this is an ominous start to a make-or-break year for the latest underachieving Eagles pass rusher.