The Detroit Lions traded up into the fourth round to acquire pick No. 113 overall and with that pick they selected Purdue linebacker Derrick Barnes. One of the truly unique players in this draft cycle, Barnes positional experience, athleticism, and upside make him a player worth developing.
Barnes, just a tick over six feet tall and 238 pounds, is undersized for an EDGE rusher, but that’s where he played during the first three years of his Boilermakers career, two of them as a starter in their 3-4 scheme. As a senior, Barnes moved to an off-the-ball role where he led the team in tackles.
In the NFL, Barnes will likely have to play primarily as an off-the-ball linebacker, who can be used situationally at other spots. There is a ton to like about Barnes’ skill set, and while his versatility is very appealing, he’s still developing his overall game.
Last season, Barnes proved he has the instincts to play as an off-the-ball linebacker, trusting his vision to make plays on the ball. He attacks downhill with burst and acceleration, and while he can tiptoe around offensive players in gaps, he struggles to get off blocks when engaged. He has a natural feel for what’s happening during the play and where the ball is going, but needs to be more aware of where blockers are around him to avoid the wash.
He leans on his long speed and short-area quickness to help him pursue the ball, but Purdue rarely asked him to cover, so he lacks experience to play in that role full time.
While Barnes is still developing some fundamentals, he plays with intensity and never quits on plays. His hand strength is a massive asset and he will use them to stack blockers and in finishing plays. He is a highly-technical tackler and once he gets hands on you, it’s done.
Purdue LB Derrick Barnes is one of my favorite players in the class. Tested well, very good tackler, super physical and aggressive in his fills, shows off range, coming along in zone coverage…big fan of his skill set pic.twitter.com/nHiQKKm29e
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) March 31, 2021
These traits will likely lead to him holding down developmental off-the-ball linebacker as a rookie, with the ability to be a situational pass rusher on the edge and the A and B gaps. Barnes will also be a Day 1 special teams contributor, and based on his experience, he should play in all phases.
Derrick Barnes is an interesting study… Has essentially played every ILB/OLB role in this defense over his 3 years as a starter – MLB, WLB, SLB, Rush End, etc
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 29, 2020
There’s a lot to like about Barnes as a project, and he will likely make some “wow” plays as a rookie, but he’ll need some time before he is ready to step into a heavily contributing role on defense.