The Buccaneers have not had an elite pass rusher since the days of Simeon Rice. Tennessee has a player that can become that next guy, Derek Barnett.
The 2017 NFL Draft is less than one week away and there is plenty of talent to be had. While the Buccaneers are on the rise, they still have holes on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. While many people are anticipating the Bucs to continue to give Winston all the weapons he needs, the defense is far from perfect.
They are now all another year older with their leader Gerald McCoy, 29, soon to be entering the twilight of his career they need depth. Noah Spence has elite pass rush potential but is not a very good run stopper. William Gholston is the exact opposite of Spence. The sleeper is Jacquies Smith, but coming off a major knee surgery he may never reach his full potential with the Bucs.
That’s where the draft comes in. One of the hardest positions to get elite talent after the first round is defensive end. While the Bucs could go running back, receiver, or safety taking a defensive end would be far from a surprise.
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This draft has some top-tier studs in Myles Garrett and Solomon Thomas. While the Buccaneers will be very unlikely to be in a position to take one of those players the second tier is not a major drop off. Jonathan Allen, Taco Charlton, and Takkarist McKinley are all in that group but my favorite is Derek Barnett from Tennessee. Barnett may be the missing piece the Buccaneers need to give defensive coordinator Mike Smith the pass rush to stop the tough NFC South quarterbacks.
Barnett grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and went to Brentwood Academy where he quickly became a high school player to watch. He was the best lineman on his team and opponents game planned against him. As a senior Barnett recorded 60 tackles, had 18 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks. Primarily as a defensive end he played a little offense as well recording 141 receiving yards, one receiving, and three rushing touchdowns. He was back-to-back Class AA Tennessee Mr. Football in 2012 and 2013. As a four star recruit and a top 25 defensive end prospect, according to ESPN, Barnett decided to stay home and play for the Tennessee Volunteers.
Barnett made an impressive leap from high school to college. He became the first true freshman linemen to start the season opener for Tennessee. Playing in all 13 games he recorded 73 tackles, 20.5 for loss and nine sacks. Setting record for Tennessee in tackles for loss and sacks as a true freshman is a great way to start your career. His play made his placed him on the All-SEC Freshman Team, Freshman All-American, and All-SEC Second Team.
As a sophomore teams started accounting for him more but that didn’t stop him. Putting up similar stats, Barnett had 69 tackles and ten sacks. More consistent he had a sack in five straight games and at least one sack in eight of thirteen games. In Tennessee’s Outback Bowl against Northwestern he had eight tackles and a sack. For the second straight season he was given All SEC Second team honors. Eligible to declare for the draft Barnett decided to stay on for his junior season.
The preseason All-American made the most of his junior year. Posting a career best 13 sacks, third most in team history. Barnett broke the longstanding record held by Hall of Famer Reggie White with 33. He also missed out on the Tennessee tackles for loss career high by one, behind Leonard Little. His junior season led to him being a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, losing to Jonathan Allen from Alabama. He was also named to multiple First Team All-Americans.
Declaring for the draft, forgoing his senior season, proved himself worthy of a first round selection. He didn’t hurt his stock at the combine either. Running a solid 4.88 40 yard dash and a top five finish, 6.96, in the three cone drill. With concerns about his length and a slower first twitch some teams are concerned about him at the next level. He’s not the pure athlete that Myles Garrett is but he’s a football guy that can stop the run and rush the passer.
Derek Barnett has the potential to be a Pro-Bowler. His power and consistency make him a prime candidate for elite potential. He can hit players and doesn’t miss tackles. Barnett can also drop back in coverage if asked too. He can be undisciplined at times but Mike Smith can work with him.
With the extremely similar traits at the combine my pro comparison to Derek Barnett is Terrell Suggs. Both at around 6’3″, 260 pounds, running a 4.8 with ability to get to the quarterback. Suggs plays more outside linebacker now but has an array of moves to get to the passer. Barnett right now just utilizes his power but under the right tutelage he can develop a more complete arsenal. Both fantastic at making linemen rag dolls they can make plays against the run and the pass.
Tampa Bay has a need for a sack artist that can get to the passer. In a division with Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Matt Ryan getting them uncomfortable is going to be crucial to the success of the team. He may not even make it to the 19th pick but if he falls and the offensive guy they want is gone, don’t be surprised if they sprint to the commissioner with the selection.