Now that Chris Long is retired, there seems to be some concern about Derek Barnett “stepping up.”
Don’t count me as one of those who are concerned.
It seems that some people have forgotten that Barnett has already stepped up. Perhaps that is what happens when you are shelved halfway through your second season with a shoulder injury bad enough to require surgery and end his season.
The injury limited him to just 23 percent of the defensive snaps because it lingered from the end of September until he was placed on Injured Reserve after the game against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 21.
People tend to forget, so here’s a refresher:
In 21 games played since being drafted in 2017 in the first round (14th overall), Barnett has 7.5 sacks. That is a sack in about one third of the games he has played. Not bad at a position that isn’t always easy to step right into right out of college and start posting eye-popping numbers.
There are more than just sack stats, though. Like the way he is capable of running down players to make tackles after they have breached the line of scrimmage, and he’s had 44 tackles in his 21 games. Or the way he is capable of setting an edge in the run game to funnel runners back into the high-traffic areas where linebackers and defensive backs roam.
Barnett, who turns just 23 on June 25, always seems to be around the ball, and was noticed for his standout play as a rookie when PFWA named him to its all-rookie team. He produced five sacks as a rookie in the regular season, which was the most by an Eagles rookie since Fletcher Cox had 5.5 in 2012.
Barnett was on the spot in one of the best plays in franchise history, that being Brandon Graham’s sack of Tom Brady in the final two minutes of Super Bowl LII. Barnett recovered the forced fumble to set the Eagles up for a field goal that opened their advantage from five points to eight with about 90 seconds left in the 41-33 win.
Perhaps as equally important as the super Super Bowl play was the strip sack he made on Vikings quarterback Case Keenum in the NFC Championship Game. The Eagles had just taken a 14-7 at the time when Minnesota marched into the Eagles’ red zone. The drive ended when Barnett made a play to end any thoughts the Vikings may have had of tying the score.
The offense turned the Barnett-forced turnover into a 76-yard touchdown drive to open a 21-7 lead and spur the rout. Barnett’s strip sack made him the first Eagles rookie to have one of those in a playoff game since 2002 when Derrick Burgess did it to St. Louis’s Kurt Warner.
Barnett also had a 23-yard fumble recovery as time expired in a 19-10 win over the Oakland Raiders on Christmas Day 2017, becoming the first Eagles rookie to register a fumble recovery TD since Brian Rolle on Nov. 7, 2011.
So step up?
Barnett already has, and I believe will continue to do so in 2019 and beyond.