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2017 New Orleans Saints Draft Targets: Derek Barnett

The Saints desperately need a pass rusher to rival what Cam Jordan is able to do, and Derek Barnett certainly would be able to contribute in a big way.

NFL Combine - Day 5 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We’ve reached a period in the NFL offseason where it’s mostly ‘dead space’. Sure, there’s a ton of NFL Mock Drafts you can indulge in, but you might be sick of continously seeing them for the past several months. Also, there’s a lot of pre-draft visits that tend to see prospects shift on team’s draft boards. But the majority of the moves are over, and here we are.

We start a new series that will focus on some prospective targets that could be on the New Orleans Saints draft board at the end of the month. The potential targets could be found anywhere in the draft, and there’s no set order in which they will come out. The focus is to bring attention to where they can help the Saints most heading into 2017. Some will make more sense than others.

Today’s focus is on Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, a very popular name once linked very heavily to the Saints at 11th overall.

Measurables & Combine Results

  • Height: 6-foot-3
  • Weight: 259 pounds
  • Hands: 10”
  • Arms: 32 1/8”
  • 40-Yard Dash: 4.88 seconds
  • Vertical: 31.0”
  • Broad Jump: 117.0”
  • 3-Cone Drill: 6.96 seconds
  • 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.44 seconds

Pro Comparisons: Nick Perry, Rob Ninkovich, Terrell Suggs, Greg Hardy (PFF - On Field)

How He Could Help the Saints

It took just three seasons and 40 games for Barnett to set the Volunteers’ school sack record at 33.0, which was previously held by Reggie White. Barnett wasn’t just one to rack up sacks against inferior opponents either, as he had multi-sack performances against Florida (2.0), Georgia (2.0), and South Carolina (3.0) en route to a 13.0-sack effort in 2016.

He brings the ability to provide a quick burst off the snap while bending at the point of contact to get low enough to elude an opposing offensive lineman. He has finesse and technique that is very desirable, and something defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen could obviously perfect. Pro Football Focus grades Barnett as their second-highest edge defender right behind TAMU’s Myles Garrett.

Per their draft guide, Barnett had the fourth-highest pass rush productivity (or PRP) of all FCS competition. Perhaps the most glaring stat is that he was credited with 78 total quarterback pressures, which was tied for third behind Utah’s Hunter Dimick (83) and Kansas State’s Jordan Willis (80). Florida Atlantic’s Trey Hendrickson tied Barnett with 78. Barnett was also credited with 24 hits and 41 hurries on opposing quarterbacks in 2016. PFF also notes that Barnett pressured the quarterback on 20 percent of his rushes, well above the NCAA average of 10 percent.

Derek Barnett vs. Cam Robinson
Pro Football Focus
Derek Barnett Sack
Draft Breakdown

He isn’t particularly the perfect run-stopping presence, and can be thrown out of the equation when double-teamed. Still, Barnett’s bread and butter is getting to the quarterback, and that’s an area where the Saints need help the most. Naturally, he has worked out for and met with the team, and there’s a lot to love about his praises for leadership and ability to grind through pain.


On the surface, edge rusher is a big need for Dennis Allen’s defense heading into the new season. Cameron Jordan is naturally a gigantic force of his own holding down one end spot, but the Saints have primarily whiffed on getting someone to compliment him. There’s uncertainty with players like Hau’oli Kikaha and Obum Gwacham coming off of injured reserve, and the argument could be made that they wouldn’t be in the running for being a full-time starter.

Free agent addition Alex Okafor could be the most intriguing presence on the edge position, and Darryl Tapp provides adequate depth. Still, the Saints have not had a desirable outcome for their sack production over the past several seasons. After a 49-sack performance under Rob Ryan in 2013, which was the team’s highest under Sean Payton and highest since 2001, the Saints have only averaged just under 32 per season since.

Derek Barnett could absolutely help the Saints, and he might not be the flashiest pick compared to the likes of Solomon Thomas, Haason Reddick, or Taco Charlton, but he would be the right one if there at 11th.


Would you be satisfied drafting Derek Barnett at 11th?

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