The Detroit Lions will kick off training camp this week under the umbrella of a new regime in the Motor City. One that implemented several changes across the board this offseason and still has much more to do.
Despite the rebuild being incomplete, the Lions are hoping to field a competitive team this upcoming season. And fans will start to get a glimpse of whether this new team will be competitive or not in the next few weeks through training camp and the preseason.
One area that should be of particular interest to fans is the Lions’ linebacker corps. Gone are names like Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones, and Reggie Ragland. In their place, the team welcomed newcomers like Alex Anzalone, Shaun Dion Hamilton, and rookie Derrick Barnes this offseason.
Jamie Collins is the undisputed star of this unit. After signing a hefty three-year, $30 million deal to join the Matt Patricia-led defense in Detroit, Collins posted a solid debut season in Motown. The 31-year old racked up 101 combined tackles, six tackles for loss, six pass deflections, one interception, and a sack in 2020.
The biggest question mark of this group is undoubtedly former 2019 second-rounder Jahlani Tavai. The 6-foot-2, 246-pound third-year linebacker is coming off a down season and playing for his third defensive coordinator in as many years. Tavai shed some weight this offseason in an attempt to gain some speed, but his fate in Detroit could be decided this summer based on his performance.
But if there’s a wildcard to keep tabs on this summer in this linebacker corps, it’s likely their fourth-round rookie. Here’s what Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus recently wrote about Barnes after selecting the first-year linebacker as one to watch who isn’t projected to make the starting lineup to kick off the 2021 NFL regular season.
“The rookie Barnes is expected to fall behind Collins and Anzalone on the depth chart, but it’s not difficult to see him having a role defensively. It will likely be an early-down role that allows the former edge defender to play close to the line of scrimmage … Barnes is a surehanded tackler — it was one of his biggest strengths coming out of Purdue. He missed just 22 tackles on 245 career attempts at the college level.”
After selecting USC wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown with the 112th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Lions immediately traded back up to obtain the following pick to acquire Barnes. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound defender racked up 54 total tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss in six games last season for the Purdue Boilermakers.
According to NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein, Barnes possesses a throwback body type combined with the strength and toughness to handle the physical aspects of the inside linebacker role on the next level. The 22-year old also possesses position-flex as he played as an edge rusher at Purdue as well, racking up a career-high 7.5 sacks his junior year.
Derrick Barnes is the cousin of former NFL MVP and Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander. So the bloodlines to be successful in the NFL are there. Barnes actually averaged over 10.5 yards per carry as a senior in high school as a running back himself.