NFL draft profile: No. 18 — Tennessee DE Derek Barnett, average athleticism but terrific production

Tennessee DE Derek Barnett
6-foot-3, 259 pounds

Key stat: Had 10 or more sacks in each of his three seasons with the Vols (the only SEC player to accomplish that feat), broke Reggie White’s school records for sacks (33), finished second behind Leonard Little in school history with 52 tackles for loss and added 31 pressures in his career.

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Tennessee DE Derek Barnett wins with smarts, effort and great hands. (AP)
Tennessee DE Derek Barnett wins with smarts, effort and great hands. (AP)

The skinny: After a prep year at Brentwood Academy (Tenn.), Barnett joined the Vols in 2014 and started 10 of the 13 games, setting school freshman marks for sacks (10) and tackles for loss (an SEC-best 20.5). After offseason shoulder surgery in 2015, Barnett started every game the next two seasons at right defensive end and was named first-team All-SEC and first-team All-America in 2016.

Barnett declared for the 2017 NFL draft following his junior season and opted to perform a complete workout — minus the bench press — at the NFL scouting combine despite battling illness. He eventually put up 20 reps on the bench at his pro day. Barnett will be 21 years old in his rookie season.

Best-suited destination: Barnett is a fit in both odd and even fronts, making him attractive to a wide swath of teams. Although he’s not considered an elite athlete, he could add weight and factor as more of a down lineman (even one who could kick inside often) or stay on his feet and play linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Teams that could value Barnett more than others include the Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers.

Upside: Highly motivated, studious and serious player who wants to be great. Praised by teammates and coaches alike for his leadership traits. Mature and grounded. Makes up for his lack of elite traits by winning the mental game. White-hot motor leads to effort sacks and big plays. Outstanding college production, with 29 of his 33 career sacks coming against SEC competition. Has a knack for making big plays at crucial times. Quick, strong and big hands — can shed blockers easily. Not fast, but 3-cone time (6.96 seconds) is considered excellent. His short-area quickness and economy of movement can be seen in this sack against Alabama in which Barnett went right around OT Cam Robinson, a possible first-round pick:

Tennessee DE Derek Barnett can turn the corner when he needs to, as he did here vs. Bama. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)
Tennessee DE Derek Barnett can turn the corner when he needs to, as he did here vs. Bama. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)

Still young and maturing physically. Has room to add weight without sacrificing too much burst or quickness. Could even bulk up and be a interior rusher, as a 3-, 4- or 5-technique. Keeps his head up and locates the ball well. Stays home and is disciplined against misdirection. Appears to be a good, strong run defender who can flush out plays wide or drive blockers back. Sets a good edge. Hits hard and drives through tackles. Works down the line, takes good angles to the ball and can make plays across the formation.

Downside: Doesn’t always explode off the snap — occasionally Barnett is the last guy out of his stance if he doesn’t anticipate the snap count or teams go with a quick count. Appears underdeveloped in the lower body, and 31-inch vertical jump at the combine suggests that he lacks explosion. Not particularly natural dropping into zones and can’t be asked to cover backs or tight ends downfield at all. More effective rushing from the right side, it appears, than the left. Still needs to develop a pass-rush arsenal — doesn’t counter inside and doesn’t have a great spin. Needs more solutions if he doesn’t get a good jump off the snap or win his initial hand fight. Can look stiff and tight in the hips, and he lacks suddenness. Doesn’t play with top-end power (can’t convert speed to power consistently because of limited burst). Not going to defeat well-executed double teams. Can be collapsed by a good chip, as he was here in the bowl game against Nebraska:

Even in a dominant performance against Nebraska, Derek Barnett didn’t win the battle here. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)
Even in a dominant performance against Nebraska, Derek Barnett didn’t win the battle here. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)

Scouting hot take: “I’d take him. You’re not asking him to bend the edge like JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul]. That’s not his game. He wins with effort. He whips dudes with his hands. Don’t put a tight end on him. You have to take him out of plays. ‘Disruptive’ is the word I would use when I watched him. There’s a place for him in my room if he’s there for us.” — NFC defensive line coach

Player comp: Cut from the same cloth as Derrick Morgan and Markus Golden. Not as big-framed as Morgan or as quick and light-footed as Golden, but maybe a mashup of the two.

Expected draft range: First-round pick

Previous profiles

Nos. 51-100: Here’s who just missed the cut
No. 50: Indiana OG-C Dan Feeney
No. 49: Iowa DB Desmond King
No. 48: Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
No. 47: Wisconsin pass rusher T.J. Watt
No. 46. Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams
No. 45. Washington CB Sidney Jones
No. 44. Alabama LB Ryan Anderson
No. 43. Ohio State WR-RB Curtis Samuel
No. 42. Florida DT Caleb Brantley
No. 41. Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu
No. 40. USC CB-KR Adoree’ Jackson
No. 39. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes
No. 38. Michigan State DL Malik McDowell
No. 37: Ole Miss TE Evan Engram
No. 36: Florida LB Jarrad Davis
No. 35: Washington S Budda Baker
No. 34: Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon
No. 33: Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey
No. 32: Florida CB Quincy Wilson
No. 31: Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara
No. 30: Michigan DB-RS Jabrill Peppers
No. 29: Alabama OT Cam Robinson
No. 28: Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer
No. 27: LSU CB Tre’Davious White
No. 26: Missouri DE Charles Harris
No. 25: UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley
No. 24: Michigan DE Taco Charlton
No. 23: Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk
No. 22: Utah OT Garett Bolles
No. 21: Western Kentucky OG-C Forrest Lamp
No. 20: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
No. 19: Miami (Fla.) TE David Njoku

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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