Derek Barnett

Most important Eagles for 2020: Derek Barnett comes in at 16

Most important Eagles for 2020: Derek Barnett comes in at 16

Over the next four weeks, we’ll be counting down the 20 most important Eagles for the 2020 season. 

20: Nate Sudfeld 
19. Avonte Maddox
18. Nathan Gerry
17. Dallas Goedert 
16. Derek Barnett

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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Eagles 2020 breakout candidate: Is this the year for Derek Barnett?

Eagles 2020 breakout candidate: Is this the year for Derek Barnett?

Over two weeks, I’m taking a look at 10 Eagles players who might be primed for a breakout season in 2020. I have already looked at Boston Scott, K’Von Wallace, Sidney Jones, T.J. Edwards, Jalen Reagor and Isaac Seumalo

Up today: Derek Barnett

Age: 23

How acquired: 2017 1st-round pick  

Entering: Year 4

It’s hard to believe but Derek Barnett is entering the fourth year of his NFL career in 2020. While Barnett has not been a bust, it’s also fair to say he hasn’t lived up to his draft position as the 14th-overall selection back in 2017. 

He’s been an average NFL starter. 

But since he doesn’t even turn 24 until later this month, Barnett still has a chance to become a star player and have that breakout season we’ve all been waiting for. 

In the first three years of his career, Barnett has played in 35 games with 20 starts. He became a full-time starter in 2018 and it looked like he was going to have a chance to break out that season but a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery ended that campaign after just six games. 

In 2019, he battled more injuries, missing two games. 

That’s the first thing. Barnett needs to stay healthy. Jim Schwartz called Barnett “one of the toughest players I’ve ever been around,” which is great. But Barnett has been hurt for a good portion of his career. He tried to play through that shoulder injury in 2018 and then last year he played through a bad ankle sprain that really seemed to bother him. Because he’s so tough, we don’t always hear about all his ailments. 

At times, Barnett has shown flashes of the first-round talent he was coming out of Tennessee in 2017, but he hasn’t been that guy week in and week out. That’s a problem. He needs more consistency. 

In three years, Barnett has 14 sacks, 49 quarterback hits and 109 total pressures. Decent numbers but not good enough. If you’re looking for a reason why this might be the time for Barnett to break out, in the final three games of 2019, Barnett had 3.0 sacks in must-win games. 

Barnett also needs to be more disciplined. In 2019, he was the Eagles’ second-most penalized player and was called for three unnecessary roughness penalties. 

Here’s a look at Barnett’s stats in his first three seasons: 

2017: 15 games, 0 starts, 5.0 sacks, 21 tackles, 8 TFL, 1 FF, 2 FR, 16 QBH

2018: 6 games, 6 starts, 2.5 sacks, 16 tackles, 5 TFL, 11 QBH

2019: 14 games, 14 starts, 6.5 sacks, 30 tackles, 10 TFLs, 2 FF, 22 QBH 

So Barnett’s best season came last year and he has been steadily improving since he entered the league and since becoming the Eagles’ starting RDE. The Eagles already picked up his fifth-year option for 2021 but that’s a non-guaranteed deal, meaning the Eagles aren’t yet on the hook for that ~$10 million salary. 

Barnett’s performance in 2020 will let us know whether he’s worth that kind of money or not. 

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Who are the Eagles' 10 best players under 25 years old?

Who are the Eagles' 10 best players under 25 years old?

There was a piece on NFL.com this week listing the top under-25 players in the NFL by position.

The list was impressive and really makes you realize how much remarkable young talent is in the league.

Among those listed are record-setting Chiefs quarterback Pat Mahomes; Bucs receiver Chris Godwin, who had over 1,300 yards last year; Pro Bowl offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Orlando Brown; sack machines Nick and Joey Boss; and star defensive backs Marshon Lattimore, Marlon Humphrey, Jamal Adams and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

There were 25 guys in all. 

And no Eagles. 

Not surprisingly.

The story used the scheduled 2020 opening day as its cutoff. Only players who will be 24 or younger as of Sept. 13, 1995, were eligible.

Which got us thinking about the best Eagles under 25.

And it’s a little ominous.

The Eagles haven’t had a player under 25 make a Pro Bowl since kicker Cody Parkey in 2014 and they haven’t had a position player under 25 make a Pro Bowl since Nick Foles in 2013. Their last defensive players under 25 to make a Pro Bowl were Michael Lewis and Lito Sheppard in 2004.

For the sake of comparison, 30 NFL players who began last year under 25 made a Pro Bowl just last year, and 91 different players under 25 have made at least one Pro Bowl since the last Eagle did.

The Cowboys, for the sake of comparison, have had five.

Now, Pro Bowls are just one way of measuring young talent, but the urgency for the Eagles to begin developing younger players is clear. 

Especially when you look at this list of the top 10 Eagles under 25. 

For the record, Dallas Goedert, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Hassan Ridgeway and Will Parks are already 25, and Greg Ward, Rasul Douglas and Joe Ostman turn 25 this summer. And we’re not including rookies just because who knows.

1. RB Miles Sanders
Had one of the finest rookie seasons in Eagles history, with 818 rushing yards, 50 catches and 1,327 scrimmage yards. Led all NFL rookie running backs in scrimmage yards. Turns 25: May 1, 2022.

2. DE Derek Barnett
Barnett has been OK, but a top-15 pick with 14 sacks in three years probably shouldn’t be your second-best under-25 player. Among players who entered the league in 2017, Barnett’s 14 career sacks are only 11th. Turns 25: June 25, 2021.

3. CB Avonte Maddox
Has shown a lot of promise, mainly as a slot and mainly down the stretch in 2018. May have inside track for a starting outside corner spot in 2020. Turns 25: March 31, 2021.

4. OT Andre Dillard 
His three decent starts at left tackle last year earn Dillard the No. 4 spot. His awful start at right tackle is why he’s no higher. Turns 25: Oct. 3, 2020.

5. DE Josh Sweat
OK, now it gets tricky. Sweat had 4.0 sacks in 352 snaps last year, which isn't a great ratio. But at least he played and contributed. Turns 25: March 29, 2022.

6. LB T.J. Edwards 
Didn’t play a lot as an undrafted rookie — 112 defensive snaps all year — but looks like a solid inside linebacker prospect. Turns 25: Aug. 12, 2021.

7. CB Sidney Jones 
Obviously, Jones has been a huge disappointment since the Eagles drafted him in the second round in 2017, but at least he showed a couple brief flashes last year that give us hope. Turns 25: April 29, 2021.

8. DT Anthony Rush 
Came off the practice squad to give the Eagles a late-season lift with 152 snaps over the last nine games. Turns 25: Sept. 1, 2021

9. CB Craig James 
We’re at the point where we’re going with a special teamer here. James played nearly 250 special teams snaps last season. Turns 25: April 29, 2021.

10. WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside 
I know, I know, but somebody has to be No. 10, and at least JJAW had seven 1st-down receptions last year. That’s 70 percent of his career catches! Turns 25: Dec. 31, 2021.

The rest: Here are the remaining players on the current roster (not including rookies) who will be under 25 on opening day: Marcus Epps, Marcus Green, Deaontay Burnett, Nate Herbig, Elijah Holyfield, Albert Huggins, Jordan Mailata, Shareef Miller, Sua Opeta, Keegan Render, Tremon Smith.

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