’21 Training Camp Pre: Watch For Falling DE Stock
[Editor’s Note: This is the 10th in a series of stories from Andrew DiCecco and Geoff Mosher previewing the Philadelphia Eagles as they head into training camp July 27. This story answers the question: Who is most poised for a decline year?]
On Thursday, Mosher and DiCecco gave their selections for Eagles player most poised for a breakout season.
On the flip side, the Eagles enter 2021 with several aging veterans. Invariably, at least one of them will encounter a decline – maybe not as drastic as Carson Wentz’s last year, but an impactful decline nonetheless.
Here’s how Mosher and DiCecco see it:
Andrew DiCecco’s pick: Derek Barnett
It’s admittedly hard to fathom how a former first-round defensive end with just 19.5 sacks in 48 career games would be destined for a regression. However, for various reasons, Derek Barnett fits the bill.
Since making the steep, and questionable, first-round investment on Barnett four years ago, the Eagles have given Barnett every opportunity to prove them right.
Coming out of the 2017 NFL Draft, Barnett was touted as a pro-ready pass rusher with active hands, strength at the point of attack, and exceptional play recognition. Though Barnett wasn’t the popular pick on draft night, the team remained true to its blueprint in bolstering the trenches and selected the Tennessee pass rusher.
Throughout his tenure, Barnett has struggled with availability, ineffectiveness, and poorly timed mental lapses. When the 25-year-old has been in the lineup, he’s been virtually nonexistent, despite the notable attention focused on Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham.
Now, Barnett has made strides over the past couple of seasons, logging 12 sacks and 1,230 snaps over that span. However, his sporadic production suggests he would be best suited as a prominent rotational piece, rather than being pigeon-holed into a starting role. He might never compile double-digit sacks, or even evolve into a consistent force from the edge, but there should be a role for him.
In addition to his struggles, snaps could become scarcer this season due to developments in personnel.
The addition of veteran sack artist Ryan Kerrigan, coupled with the roaring emergence of Josh Sweat, further complicate Barnett’s outlook. Based on production and upside, it’s arguable that Kerrigan and Sweat deserve the snaps that had previously been devoted to Barnett.
Perhaps a change of scenery is what he needs to resurrect his career, or maybe Jonathan Gannon’s system suits his skill set. Nevertheless, should Barnett continue to underwhelm under a new regime, it won’t be long before he becomes an afterthought.
Geoff Mosher’s pick: Derek Barnett
First time this preview series Andrew and I have picked the same person, so we must be onto something.
Carson Wentz’s decline last year was equal parts tough to watch and unpredictable. Wentz had played brilliantly in the final month of the 2019 regular season, leading the Eagles to a division title despite working with minimal weapons. Who could’ve seen him hitting rock bottom just eight months later?
Every year, there’s someone whose declines comes when least expected. The Eagles have to hope that this year’s declining player doesn’t crash and burn the way Wentz did.
By age and injury history alone, there are some obvious candidates, most of them who work in the trenches. But the hunch here is that the declining lineman will be the youngest of the veterans.
Barnett, who’s slated to make about $10 million on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, has already struggled to stay healthy and to reach his fullest potential.
The reality is, we might have already seen the best of Barnett, who has 12 sacks and 38 hits in the past two seasons.
The spotlight is on Barnett to break out this season and showcase the potential that was supposed to come with being the 14th pick in 2017, but there isn’t much evidence that Barnett has the athletic traits and explosion off scrimmage to improve his resume.
He was once billed as overly bendy, with unique ankle flexion that enabled him to edge offensive tackles to compensate for average strength and athleticism. But after four seasons, glimpses of that uncanny bend, and consistent pathways to the quarterback, have only come in spurts for the former University of Tennessee record-setting defensive end.
Sure, injuries have contributed to Barnett’s modest production, but that’s also an easy excuse to deflect from his pedestrian production when healthy and on the field.
The Eagles have Josh Sweat, Ryan Kerrigan, Joe Ostman and rookie Tarron Jackson to push Barnett for playing time, along with three first-round picks next year to bring in an elite pass-rushing prospect.
The hunch here is that Barnett won’t be back in 2021.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com and Geoff Mosher (@GeoffMosherNFL) is is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and Senior staff writer/editor for InsideTheBirds.com.
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