He Means Business
I'm higher than the draft experts are on Purdue LB, Derrick Barnes. It doesn't surprise me that he's flown under the radar, but I think people are underestimating his NFL potential. Barnes doesn't project to be a superstar and he's not a good pass defender, but if a team is looking for a tough and versatile run stopping LB, Barnes fits the bill.
Most boards have Barnes as a 7th round to UDFA player. At the Senior Bowl, some experts were singing his praises.
Tony Pauline for The Draft Network said that Barnes was one of the better LBs at the Senior Bowl. He called Barnes "dominant" in the blocking drills, athletic in the coverage drills and said his film was outstanding. Pauline said that Barnes was going to be a middle round steal.
Jim Nagy, the Senior Bowl executive director, said that Barnes was one of the fastest rising LBs in the draft. He highlighted a practice rep from the SB where Barnes does a great job covering an option route, staying with the receiver closely and breaking up the pass.
PFN said that Barnes had a good week at the Senior Bowl. They liked his quick first step in pass coverage drills. They thought he had some hip stiffness transitioning from his backpedal. They called him steady, but not a big playmaker.
6 feet and half an inch tall, 245 pounds, 81 5/8'' wingspan, 33'' arms, 8.75 inch hands (Senior Bowl measurements)
Notice how large his wingspan is for his height. Cory Littleton is over 6'3'' tall and has a 79 7/8'' wingspan. Barnes is 3 inches shorter, but has a larger wingspan. Barnes's wingspan is only half an inch smaller than Darius Leonard's. This odd combination of a shorter LB with long arms is a key reason why Barnes has such good play strength on the field. He has a naturally lower center of gravity and lower pad level compared to opponents. But, he also has a thick, powerful build and can use his long arms to deliver strong strikes into blockers and into tackle attempts.
Turns 22 years old in May. True senior. Major in marketing.
I wasn't able to find any info on any major injuries with him. Early in one game in 2018, he appeared to bend over in pain and clutch at his sides or his back. He briefly came out, but then returned and continued to play. He wasn't able to run normally in this game (looked like a completely different player in this game compared to other games) but I wasn't able to find any info about any injury or ailment.
2 star recruit. Played LB and RB in high school. As a HS senior, had 1,567 rushing yards and 22 rushing TDs at RB. Was originally recruited by Western Kentucky as a RB. Committed to Toledo. When Jeff Brohm went from WKy to Purdue to be the head coach, Barnes flipped and went to Purdue. Wanted to be a LB in college instead of a RB. Listed at 6'1'' tall and 240 pounds as a frosh.
As a true freshman in 2017, surprised the Purdue coaches by how quickly he made an impact. Was a special teams ace and filled in on defense as an injury replacement. Impressed coaches by being physical and aggressive. The DC and LB coach described him, saying "He runs to the ball and he's mean and he'll hit you."
In 2018, made 12 starts. Some plays, it looked like he was playing an elephant (or LEO) hybrid linebacker spot. Other times, he was playing ILB. On passing downs, sometimes he was a DE with his hands in the dirt.
In 2019, he was used mostly as a DE.
In 2020, he played primarily MLB, though he still was used as a pass rusher from a DE or OLB position on some plays.
2018: 92 tackles (61 solo), 8 TFLs, 3 sacks
2019: 63 tackles (47 solo), 11 TFLs, 7.5 sacks, 2 PD, FF
2020: 54 tackles (40 solo), 5.5 TFLs, no sacks, 1 INT, 2 PD
Purdue only played 6 games in 2020. He was ejected for targeting in one game and by rule had to sit out the first half of the following game, so he effectively only played about 5 games in 2020.
Team player, willing to play position asked by coaches. Comes across as level headed and thoughtful in interviews. Good sense of humor, well spoken. Purdue used rotating captains for each game in 2020 and Barnes was selected as the team's defensive captain for the opening game of the season.
ESPN 233rd overall, 18th ILB (7th round)
PFF not ranked in top 300 (UDFA)
Drafttek 321st overall (UDFA)
Sports Illustrated 13th ILB (7th round)
Lance Zierlein 5.64 draft grade. Compare that to 5.69 draft grade last year for Casey Toohill, a 7th round pick by the Eagles. Philly waived Toohill in the middle of the season and he was claimed off of waivers by Washington.
Stout Run Defender
Disproportionately long arms for his height.
Very strong at point of attack. Sets hard edges and consistently sheds blocks with physicality and strength. Stacks OL like bricks. Seems like he moves them backwards more often than they move him back. Anchors well and feet are like tree roots in the ground.
Pulling LG, head on collision, Barnes delivers powerful stick, not yielding an inch. LG pulls, powerful stack and shed, tackles RB for limited gain.
4th&1, playing as 3-4 OLB on edge, stacks the right tackle, sheds him to win the edge and helps to stop the RB short of the marker. 3rd&2, powerfully stacks OL block at LOS. 3rd&1, RG pulls, Barnes smashes into him, stands him up with 2 handed shove, then gobbles up the RB. Another 3rd&1, he's fires forward from off the LOS, attacking the LT. Drives the LT backwards into the RB, causing the RB to fall down 2 yards short of the marker. Yes, that's right, he tackled the RB using the LT. Barnes holds both of his hands up triumphantly after the play, signalling that the offense didn't make the yards to gain.
Multiple times, sets hard edge, then able to help back to inside to tackle RB. Consistently and easily stacks and sheds blockers both big and small, TE and OL. Uses hands to shed LT, then wraps up RB securely. Instantly sheds LT, then gobbles up the RB. Off the LOS as a stacked LB, he charges forward and jolts the LT off balance, then shoves the LT to the ground. In doing so, he also causes the LG to fall down, a double pancake. Physically stacks the LT, then discards him.
Delivers heavy hits on RBs. Makes "venus fly trap" tackles, as RBs enter his vicinity, he reaches out, wraps his arms around their legs firmly and they can't escape.
Stones lead blocking RB in hole in short yardage. Ran over pass blocking RB.
Uses hands well to defeat 2nd level blockers. Flowing out wide, uses a long arm to hold off TE, freeing his outside arm, forcing RB to cut back, then hits brakes and causes RB to run into him, stopping the run. Defeats OL blockers on outside zone runs, frees himself to flow towards the RB. Shed G on outside zone, nearly made tackle outside of his gap, but not enough athleticism and RB barely out of his reach as he dove for tackle. Holds off LT with long arm, then swim move to shed.
Hops over a TE's cut block, then shoves away the FB with his long arms, and nearly makes a great tackle on the RB, but has the tackle broken. Still, he beat 2 blockers by himself and nearly made a solo stop on top of it. Another wide run, ate up both the RG and the TE himself. By occupying multiple blockers on plays like this, he frees up other defenders to make the stop.
Violent hands sheds G quickly, then tackles RB. Bench presses then throws off TE and tackles RB.
Some Pass Rush Ability
Bull rushes RT, knocks away RT's outside hand, then uses violent club move to knock the RT on his backside. Overpowers and knocks RT to the ground, nearly sacks the QB. Head fake, then bull rush vs LT, able to shed late, gets close to QB. As looper, knocks LG to the ground and pursues QB.
Pushes OL back as a pass rusher. Tries to deflect passes at LOS. Bull rushes LT back to the QB, almost able to disrupt QB on throw. Used club move to win edge against LT. Bull rushes RT, then uses swim counter move to get inside, and as QB vacates pocket, spins back in the opposite direction.
Got a sack by pushing OL block back into the QB.
Can be used on zone blitz, dropping into short zone after faking pass rush.
Adequate Speed, Athleticism and Recognition
Flashed a speed burst trying to go backdoor on a wide run. Got out of position, but had decent recovery speed on long run to chase down the TE and make the tackle. Flashed some speed on a blitz to beat G's block, but missed sack when he wasn't able to redirect to the QB.
He is on the backside of an outside zone run. From the near hashmarks, he fires downhill with a burst. The center gets a piece of him, but he still is able to deliver a solid hit on the RB at the sideline, slamming the RB down and limiting the play to a short gain.
Some hip fluidity to carry TE down seam.
Avoids cut blocks, able to hop over them and protect his legs.
Found ball quickly with eyes and reacted well to draw. Not fooled when RB pretends to block before releasing out to the flat.
Good recognition of screen pass, beats the block by the OT, then dives full extension, brings down RB with a wrap up tackle for no gain.
Might have upside potential in pass coverage with more experience and coaching. When Cory Littleton was in college, he was a SAM linebacker often used as a pass rusher. As a prospect, the experts said he was a special teams player with very little upside potential. If Littleton could do it, maybe Barnes could as well. His wingspan is actually larger than Littleton's. If that were to happen, Barnes could become very valuable, because he'd be a 3 down LB.
Not fast. Pursuit speed and range only average. Below average lateral change of direction makes him vulnerable to misdirection and play action bootleg plays.
Not enough agility to finish plays. Stumbles near QB, not able to get back up and redirect to finish sack. Slipped in space trying to transition forward.
Sometimes not centered on the RB when tackling and can get his tackle broken.
Anchor is only strong when he is prepared and rooted in the ground. Can get pushed backwards if he doesn't get feet organized. Too square to FB and gets blasted back. Will give up ground to climbing OL if they catch him square as he's trying to move his feet to the side.
Motor not always high. Doesn't always run to the ball fast enough as clean up defender to backup the play.
Not surprising for a player moved around to different positions, he's a little raw and makes mistakes in how he reads plays and with some of his technique.
Should let the safety properly fill and force the RB to him. In good position when he stacks the G, but can't resist trying to shed and make the tackle himself. This leaves the S hanging out to dry when the RB cuts back and neither of them were able to tackle the RB.
Overpursues wide run multiple times, opening up cutback lane.
Guessed wrong hole on short yardage play, took himself out of position.
LG pulls on QB power run. Instead of stepping laterally, Barnes takes one step forward, making him late. Not in a good position to get over the top of the LG's block, he probably should just try to attack it, but instead he gambles and tries to go under it, but whiffs trying to get the QB, leading to a big run.
Tries to run out to defend tunnel screen, but not prepared for TE block and gets shoved out of his gap.
Pass Defense Limitations
At top of route against TE, the TE pushes him to the ground and is wide open.
Appears to completely blow his coverage assignment against RB. The RB chip blocks, then releases to flat. LB is preoccupied with trying to reroute WRs on shallow crosser, leaving RB 100% wide open.
Doesn't get good depth in zone. Raw technique in footwork on zone drops. Stumbled and slipped in transition on zone drop one play.
Not good at reading the eyes of the QB as zone defender. Tends to just stand in one spot instead of squeezing passing windows or anticipating throws. Lacks awareness in zone. Left TE wide open in the flat, too focused on a different receiver.
Appeared to make mental mistake and reacted late, not prepared to cover TE. Did he think he was supposed to cover the RB before the snap?
Not on the field in some nickel looks on passing downs. Used as pass rusher off edge, not in coverage on many passing situations.
Too small, not enough length or explosiveness to be a full time pass rusher.
Failed to recognize screen pass developing. Fooled by play action, fails to cover FB in the flat.
Falls asleep and leaves TE wide open on play action, showed decent recovery speed to chase down the TE, but only after a 20 yard gain. Carbon copy, asleep again, 11 yard gain.
Caught between positions. Should he be playing as a 3-4 OLB? Is he an ILB? Can he be a 4-3 SAM? Success could depend on being with the right team and fitting into a specific role in that scheme.
I like Barnes as an ILB, but for the Rams he might be redundant with Micah Kiser. This is fine if he's being drafted as an eventual replacement, as both Kiser and Troy Reeder are entering the final year of their contracts. If the goal is to get more pass coverage ability at ILB, the Rams would have to be banking that Barnes will develop more in that area.
Pro Comparison and Grade
Avery Williamson (5th round 2014, Titans, Kentucky.) 4th round grade.
Williamson was 6'1'' tall, 246 pounds, 32.75'' arms, 78 7/8'' wingspan, 9.5'' hands.
He ran 4.66 sec in the 40. A few years ago, Williamson was known as one of the top run defending LBs in the NFL, but wasn't as good at pass coverage. In 2017, he was a top 10 graded LB by PFF. He signed with the Jets in free agency, then tore his ACL in 2019.
There was another similar Purdue LB named Ja'Whaun Bentley, who the Patriots drafted in the 5th round in 2018. Like Barnes, many draft experts had Bentley graded as a 7th round to UDFA prospect. Bentley was a starter for the Pats last season and finished 2nd on the team in tackles, even though he only played in 13 games. Bentley was drafted 4 slots prior to Micah Kiser.
Derrick Barnes is an alternative prospect to Baron Browning from Ohio State. I gave Browning a 3rd round grade, only slightly better than how I rank Barnes. Browning is 3 inches taller, but the 2 players are virtually identical in weight, wingspan and arm length.
Browning is better suited to play OLB and is better in pass coverage, while Barnes probably has better potential playing ILB.
Browning has regularly been mocked as a 2nd or 3rd round pick. Meanwhile, Barnes on most boards is listed as a 7th round to UDFA player. If Barnes doesn't get drafted at all, the Rams wouldn't even need to use a pick to acquire him, they could just try to convince him to sign as an UDFA, like Cory Littleton. The Rams have a late 7th round pick, so if no one else wants him, they could pick him up right at the end of the draft.
Barnes is a sleeper LB prospect and I think he might turn out to be a better NFL player than several of the much better known and bigger name LBs in this draft class.