Derek Barnett: Former Vols DE should have breakout second year with Eagles

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Derek Barnett /

Former Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett enters his second year in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. He should become a star in Philly.

Derek Barnett was always known for coming through in the biggest moments. After all, he became the Tennessee football all-time leader in sacks by saving almost all of them for SEC games, bowl games and games against ranked teams. But recovering the fumble that won the Super Bowl his rookie season was probably even beyond that expectation for him.

That was the last time we saw him on the field in a meaningful game. Now, with the Eagles set to open up the season Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons, he’s ready for his sophomore campaign. It’s the perfect match-up.

Looking for a breakout campaign his second year in the league, Derek Barnett is back on the field in primetime to kickoff the NFL season. He is going up against one of the best offensive lines in the country, a team that was sixth in fewest sacks allowed last year. So this is another major test for Barnett, one he has passed with flying colors in past years.

We already noted how he came through in the biggest moments in college and recovered the fumble in the Super Bowl. Well, even before that, he saved his best plays for the biggest moments on the season.

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In 2017, Derek Barnett had five sacks on the year. None of them came against teams that were in the bottom 10 in fewest sacks allowed, and in fact two and a half of them came against teams in the top half of the league in that. Against the Dallas Cowboys, ranked No. 10 in fewest sacks allowed, Barnett had two sacks and three tackles on Nov. 19.

Once the playoffs came, Barnett had another sack against the Minnesota Vikings, one of the eight best teams in the league at avoiding sacks. So if you are witnessing a pattern, you’re right. Barnett not only saves his best for the biggest moments. He saves them for games against teams that actually have good blocking.

So what better way for Derek Barnett to kickoff a breakout season into a superstar than on opening night against one of the best pass protection teams in the country? The Super Bowl champion was made for this stage.

This isn’t to say Barnett was perfect last year. He got by in 2017 on timing the snap count and using one spin move for the most part as a situational pass rusher. But NFL teams can figure players out after a year. As Jeff McLane noted in The Inquirer, Barnett needs to pick up another move if he’s going to take that next step.

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However, everybody in Knoxville knows that Barnett is a gamer. He has a work ethic that made us say he would even be better in the NFL than Myles Garrett. So if that holds true at this level, he probably spent all offseason trying to get better. And that should only show more Thursday night.