Barnett Doesn’t Shy Away from Lofty Comparables
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - When it comes to Derek Barnett, the combine doesn't make the football player or at least that's what the Philadelphia Eagles believe.
Typically, edge rushers who traverse 40 yards in 4.88 seconds are not in the conversation to be selected with the 14th overall pick in the NFL Draft but that's exactly where the former Tennessee star landed in front of about 100,000 of his closest friends on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Thursday night.
In need of help on the edge with the cornerback prospects dwindling and Christian McCaffrey safely in Charlotte, Barnett and his impressive resume in college football's toughest conference became the best-case scenario for Philadelphia.
With draft-day press conferences out of the way, Barnett was officially introduced on Friday at the NovaCare Complex and given his new No. 96 jersey by the braintrust responsible for taking him, executive VP of football operations Howie Roseman, personnel chief Joe Douglas and head coach Doug Pederson.
Barnett's success in the SEC was obviously valued more than the raw athletic numbers by Philadelphia,
"I played against a lot of great tackles: Laremy Tunsil, Brandon Scherff, Cam Robinson. I played against a lot of great tackles week in and week out," Barnett said. "You win on Saturdays and then Sunday you celebrate, but Monday you've got to get back to work. I feel like it's going to be the same way in the NFL.”
Barnett downplayed a case of the flu he had at the combine and claimed his love of the game was the thing that set him apart from the more athletic defensive ends available.
“I just love football. I love everything, what the game brings," he claimed. "I love the contact. I love playing with 10 other guys on defense. I just love everything about it.”
When asked where he needed to improve the most, Barnett was quick with an answer.
"My eye discipline," he said. "Sometimes I like to put my eyes in the backfield too fast before defeating my block, so I think I need to continue to work on my eye discipline.”
The names being bandied about as comparisons for Barnett are giants of the game, starting with Reggie White, whose picture loomed over the rookie as he spoke at the podium.
"I watched tape of him at Tennessee," Barnett said of White, the late Eagles great whose legacy is permanently on display in Canton. "I was trying to put the hump-move in my game. But, as a pass-rusher, I feel like everybody has their own moves."
Barnett will find it difficult to escape the presence of White, one of the all-time greats in Eagles' history who held the sacks record at Tennessee before Barnett broke it last season.
The comparisons don't end there for Barnett, however, as Douglas believed his production at UT was similar to that of former Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs when the latter was in college at Arizona State.
"I don't feel any pressure," Barnett said of the lofty praise. "I take it as a compliment, and Terrell Suggs, he was a great ball-player, going to be a Hall of Famer, and Reggie White, probably one of the greatest defensive linemen to play the game. For me to be compared to those two is really a blessing.”
Barnett himself claims that he's kept an eye on versatile Seattle Seahawks star Michael Bennett, as well as former Giants Hall of Famer Michael Strahan.
"I like watching Michael Bennett play," he said. "I like his demeanor. He uses his hands very well. When I was younger, Michael Strahan, [was] one of the best to do it. I look up to a lot of those guys.”
John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen