Derrick Barnes is a tough, hard nosed linebacker prospect who is an exceptional athlete with speed, power and great length. He has a varied skill set that has seen him play as an inside linebacker, an outside linebacker, and as an edge player for the Purdue Boilermakers.
He was a great running back and linebacker in high school who had an over a 10 yards per rush average and 22 TDs as a senior RB and over 125 tackles as a linebacker. He added 3 kick returns for TDs as well. He played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2017 for the Boilermakers making 2 starts and was a standout on special teams.
After that he started 30 of the next 31 games with him as an ILB/OLB in 2018 who usually lined up on the wide side of the field. In 2019 he was moved to an edge rusher making 8 sacks and 11 TFL in 12 games. In 2020 he was moved back to play as an inside linebacker for the 6 games Purdue played in 2020 making 54 tackles with 6 TFL.
Barnes is a sudden player who has excellent burst to the ball. He only has played as a ILB for a few games but reads the play very well. He believes his eyes to react quickly and make the play. He chases down ball carriers sideline to sideline with speed. He ran 4.57/40 at his pro day.
Here he is as the left ILB reading the play then making the tackle. He is patient. He doesn’t overreact to the RB pressing the hole. He waits until he makes his move then Barnes attacks and makes a sure tackle in the backfield.
Barnes is a sure wrap tackler who has missed only 22 tackling attempts in 245 career attempts. Many of those where high speed tackle attempts when he lost his footing trying to stop or slipped on a slick surface. He is a little short for the position (just over 6’ tall) so he is able to get great force behind his tackles when he gets in proper tackling form. He is a very lean but muscular player who packs a wallop when he tackles.
Here is an example of that against Minnesota as he is playing as a MIKE LB. This is near perfect LB play as he waits to see the play develop, makes sure there are no reverses or cut backs, finds the crease to the play, and explodes through the hole.
Watch how fast he comes through the hole, like other players are playing in slow motion. This is a strong, forceful tackle by a powerful man that is done swiftly and surely in the backfield. This is a man who has played less than 20 games on the inside and is reading plays like this. Once he has a chance to learn from a player like a C.J. Mosley he will be even more ready to become a quality contributor on the defense.
Barnes has played all over the defense and was an outside protector on the edge for a season. He is not tall but has incredibly long arms ( 33 3/8”) for a man his size which allows him to use that length and hold off the blocking attempts of the big TE, read the play, and explode off the block and make the tackle.
What to look for is how Barnes actually controls the blocker who is actually much bigger than he is. He reads the play and then has the speed to chase down a RB before he can turn the corner. This is near elite skills shown by a burly tough guy who can play multiple positions. To have a player with scheme diversity, position diversity, speed, strength, power, and tackling ability to make plays all over the field is extraordinary.
The one knock on Barnes is he has tight hips. He is more power than agility so he isn’t going to be a player who can turn and run with swift TE in coverage. He isn’t horrible at turning and running in coverage. He just hasn’t done it a lot, and his skill set isn’t one who can turn and cover fleet footed tight ends. That doesn’t mean he is incapable of moving around and being sound in zone coverage like he does here.
This is a nice play by Barnes because he reads the play and take the appropriate action to set himself up for success. This is 2nd and 11 inside the 20 yard line so Illinois is in the red zone. The fake sweep to the right is ignored by Barnes as he sees two receivers to the right and a RB sliding out to that same side. He sees the sees the QB rolling to the right and the RB being covered in the flat so he gets depth between the two receivers. The QB basically throws the ball into Barnes hands so it was a case of great instincts then catching the ball.
This next play is where Barnes shows his true value as a hard nosed run stuffer that makes the offense one dimensional. This is simply seeing the play, finding the run fit, and making an explosive play against the offense.
I love great ILB play, it is a joy to me. To watch this type of play where the read is true, the run fit is excellent, and the power in the tackle is great is beauty to me. This is like football poetry or watching an exquisite production of an opera like Swann Lake but in football form. From the read to the explosion to the ball then the great form tackle is just awesome. Watch him read, find the runner, get in great tackling technical form, then unload on the RB. Itis beauty in a savage way.
This next play is similar in that it is a read and react type play just at high speed and with a cannonball of an ILB that is making his way to the ball. He does show a slight problem in his technique as he will come in too hot to break down and make the tackle. This is poor tackling on the run and needs to be worked on.
When you watch Barnes on this play like many, he seems to be the fastest player on the field, but of course he is not. Barnes is fast for his size, but it is his ability to read and react with such authority is what makes him look so fast. His ability to read the play then commit with such decisive conviction is what makes him look like a torpedo in search of a target.
This next play is a 4th down play late in the game with Indiana down by a TD and looking to convert a 4th and 9 play. With a three man rush and Purdue dropping 8 there is little room to fit a pass in with a suspect QB pulling the trigger.
What again stands out here is the speed in that there are three players running towards the QB, but one guy is so much faster and makes the tackle. Barnes is playing zone coverage but keeps his eye on the QB and doesn’t allow him to make his first down mark. The ability to close on the play being such a stout player makes Barnes a viable NFL player.
There is reading and reacting, and there is speed. Nothing can replace the ability to read the situation and make a play. On this next play the offense is in a zero backfield look which means there will be a pass on the play. Barnes will be in RB coverage so when the RB goes in motion on the play he follows to keep leverage on the play.
This is a tackle for a loss on a speedy RB on a pass to the flat by a burly ILB with great speed and play reading ability. This is not to say Barnes is a finished product, but he has the tools and anticipation to become an excellent ILB in a year or two. He has been overlooked by the Draft community to this point because he played for a poor program and he doesn’t play a high profile position. That does not take away from his attributes. It just makes him a great value in the 3rd round when he should be looked at much higher.
This last clip is of when Barnes was a young player in one of his first starts. You can see the quick reading ability, maybe not as quick as later, but still you see the instincts.
That RB is A. J. Dillon who is currently on the Green Bay Packers roster. This is a nice play, but I show you this to display you the instincts have always been there. Barnes is not a flash in the pan. He is an absolute terror on the inside and will only get better with experience. He will still need to develop over time but he is a quality player who is being overlooked by the Draft community because he played at Purdue.
The Jets could draft Barnes and use him on special teams while working him with C.J. Mosely. I am not advocating that Barnes replace Mosley but he could be a monster player inside alongside Mosley.
Barnes is a player. I don’t care where he plays, but I would advocate the Jets draft him a some point. He is quality player who is severely undervalued in the Draft community.
What do you think?