Aside from a proven starting linebacker, a consistent pass rusher is easily the biggest need facing the Eagles defense heading into 2020.
Brandon Graham will be back after one of his best seasons to date in 2019. He totaled 8.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 17 QB hits. Graham got after the passer at a high rate last season, but he’s never truly been a sack artist at the defensive end position.
When Howie Roseman pulled the trigger on Derek Barnett in the first round of the 2017 draft, I’m sure they envisioned him as a guy they could count on to get consistent heat on the quarterback. After all, he did break Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee.
Now entering his fourth year, Barnett has yet to truly live up to the potential he showcased in college. But there’s plenty of reason to believe the best is yet to come for Barnett’s NFL career.
For starters, Barnett will be just 24 years old by the time the season starts. He’s only one year older than this year’s first overall selection Joe Burrow. Three year’s of NFL experience for someone as young as Barnett is invaluable. The fact that he came in as a 21-year-old rookie in 2017 and had any kind of significant impact is pretty remarkable. And he’s shown gradual improvement over his first three seasons.
Barnett finished last season with career highs in sacks (6.5), combined tackles (30), tackles for loss (10) and QB hits (22). Those aren’t eye popping numbers by any means, but it proves that Barnett’s production is trending upwards.
Injuries have played a pretty big role in Barnett’s career so far and he’s going to have to prove he can stay healthy if he wants a long-term deal from the Eagles in the near future. Since becoming the full time starter in 2018, Barnett has missed 12 games, or 37.5% of his possible starts.
Unlike last offseason where he was still recovering from shoulder surgery, Barnett has had a healthy offseason this time around to prepare for September.
With the improved secondary Howie has put together on defense, he more or less neglected to add anyone to the pass rushing group this offseason. He obviously has faith that Barnett can somewhat carry the load from a pass rushing standpoint.
Barnett is the key to the entire defense at the end of the day. We know what Graham brings to the table, we all know Fletcher Cox is one of the best in the business, and we know both Malik Jackson and Javon Hargrave will provide outstanding depth along the interior of the defensive line. Barnett is the only real question mark.
His development, or lack thereof, will make or break the Eagles defense in 2020.