Should Tennessee Vols Defensive End Derek Barnett be a Heisman Trophy Candidate?

Oct 1, 2016; Athens, GA, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett (9) hits Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Jacob Eason (10) causing a fumble recovered by Tennessee for a touchdown during the fourth quarter at Sanford Stadium. Tennessee defeated Georgia 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 1, 2016; Athens, GA, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett (9) hits Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Jacob Eason (10) causing a fumble recovered by Tennessee for a touchdown during the fourth quarter at Sanford Stadium. Tennessee defeated Georgia 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /
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Tennessee football defensive end Derek Barnett has four sacks on the season already. Should the Volunteers junior be a Heisman Trophy candidate?

For the second straight game this year, Derek Barnett had two sacks against the Georgia Bulldogs. That’s four sacks in two SEC games, one of which was a strip-sack that turned into a Vols touchdown. And now, it’s time talk about a taboo subject: a defensive player winning the Heisman Trophy.

We’ve talked this year about Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, and even Alvin Kamara having the chance to win the prestigious award.

But what about a defensive guy becoming the first player to bring it to Tennessee?

Related Story: College Football Playoff Watch: Vols Should be No. 1

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports first took that next step when discussing Barnett with his Heisman Trophy watch on Sunday.

He put Barnett at No. 4, with this to say:

"Barnett’s leadership is also off the charts, as Tennessee finds its way back to prominence despite being without three of their best players on D."

Notable accomplishments of Barnett from Saturday’s game against the Georgia Bulldogs include two sacks, a strip-sack that caused a touchdown, two and a half tackles for a loss overall, and a hurry that caused an interception.

Barnett right now ties for 27th in the country with four sacks a game. He is tied for eighth in the country in tackles for a loss with eight and a half.

But his play stretches far beyond just his numbers.

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Using the standard that the Heisman Trophy voters re-wrote in Peyton Manning’s senior season, Barnett is a play-maker in the biggest moments. And he comes through in the biggest games.

Barnett is one of only six players to have four sacks in conference games this year. And he is the only player to average two per game in SEC play.

His four sacks are also second overall in sacks against teams that were ranked when he faced them.

By the way, he’s third in the nation tackles for a loss against conference opponents with five and a half. Meanwhile, he leads the country in tackles for a loss against opponents that were ranked when he played them with six and a half.

This has been Barnett’s story since he arrived on campus, though. He now has 24 sacks in his career. Of those 24, 21 came in SEC games, another came in the Outback Bowl last year, and another came in last year’s game against the Oklahoma Sooners.

In short, Barnett has always saved his best play for the biggest moments.

The Heisman Trophy writers re-wrote the rules in 1997 when they screwed Peyton Manning and gave it to Charles Woodson. They said that defensive players deserve love, and what you do in big games count.

Well, Barnett has come through in big games. And he is a defensive player. If Tennessee continues to win, which I concede will be difficult, then there is no way people can leave him out.

What he does over the next two weeks could only add to his legacy. This weekend, he is going up against the other superstar defensive end in the SEC Myles Garrett. So this is his chance to separate himself from Garrett.

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If he does that and then has a big game against the Alabama Crimson Tide next week, Barnett should be a real Heisman Trophy contender.