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Rookie Spotlight: Derek Barnett Has Skills To Solidify Eagles Defense

By Daniel Benjamin

Name: Derek Barnett
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 259 lbs.
Position: Defensive End
School: Tennessee
Draft Pick: First Round, 14th overall selection

The Philadelphia Eagles head into the 2017 season with a goal of making the playoffs for the first time in four years. The Eagles, who last made the playoffs in 2013, are coming off their second straight losing season (7-9). Philadelphia opened the 2016 season 3-0, which included a 34-3 shellacking of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3. Philadelphia allowed a total of 27 points in the first three games.

However, things went down hill from there. Following their Week 4 bye, the Eagles went on to lose 9 of their next 11. The defense surrendered 20 or more points in each of the nine losses and gave up 274 of their 331 total points during this 11 game stretch. Philadelphia's defense really suffered when defensive tackle Bennie Logan missed time with an injury.

The Eagles' biggest problem was getting to the quarterback. They recorded 33 sacks in 2016, which tied for 16th in the NFL. 2016 Pro Bowl selection Fletcher Cox led the way with 6.5 sacks -- which ranked tied for 43rd most in the league. In reality, Brandon Graham was the team's only reliable end pass rusher this past season. Graham led the NFL with 40 quarterback hurries last year and graded out as the second best edge defender overall per Pro Football Focus.

Graham should have some help in 2017. The Eagles drafted highly decorated defensive end Derek Barnett in the first round of the 2017 draft and  added veteran defensive end Chris Long as a free agent. Barnett will vie for the right to start on the opposite end of Graham, along with Long and Vinny Curry, during training camp. Barnett is expected to see plenty of time on the field regardless of whether he wins the starting job or not.

Barnett, the No. 3 rated defensive end in the 2017 draft, had a record-breaking three-year collegiate career at Tennessee. He's very versatile and his motor is always running. The rookie is an excellent run defender, though pass rushing is his bread and butter.

Barnett was named first team All-American by the Associated Press in 2016 after compiling 56 tackles, with 19 tackles for losses, to go along with 13 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries. He finished his three-year stint with 33 sacks, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Fame member Reggie White as the Volunteers' all-time sack leader. He also sits second on the school's list in tackles for losses with 52—one fewer than St. Louis Rams great Leonard Little. Overall, Barnett played in all 39 games (36 starts), totaling 197 tackles as well as one interception and two forced fumbles.

Derek Barnett is not the only key addition for the Eagles. Philadelphia traded for defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan to solidify the middle upfront following Logan's departure to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Eagles revamped the cornerback position as last year's starters Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin departed. 2017 third round selection Rasul Douglass, second-year pro Jalen Mills, veteran Ron Brooks and newcomer Patrick Robinson are slated to compete for starting roles. They also fortified the running back and wide receiver positions through free agency and draft.

Barnett certainly has all the tools to be an exceptional pass rusher. And if he is able to begin to realize his potential this year, the Eagles could be real contenders in the NFC East.

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