In the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions traded up to No. 113 overall to select Purdue Linebacker Derrick Danta Jr. Barnes.
Let's have a look at his pro-day figures:
Height: 6'0 (RAS 2.77)
Weight: 238 lbs
20-yard shuttle: 4.32s
40-yard sprint: 4.58s (RAS 9.12)
Bench: 29 reps
(Overall RAS 8.42 - https://ras.football/ras-information/?PlayerID=19393)
Clearly, he's a fast player with good strength and explosion but a little small, based purely on the above, but let's dig a little deeper:
A graduate of Covington Holy Cross high school, he has a large Lions tattoo across his chest, being his favourite animal, it felt like fate that we should take him.
At high school, he played both linebacker and running back, rushing for 1567 yards on 150 carries with 22 touchdowns as a senior, as well as 3 kick return touchdowns. He also recovered four fumbles and had three interceptions.
Bruce Kozerski, formerly of the Bengals, and Barnes' high school coach said of him "He's a game-changer. He makes plays from sideline to sideline. Teams try to run away from him, but he's so fast. When you get up close to him and see how big he is, it's hard to believe he can move the way he does".
Despite his success, and being named Class 2A District player of the year award, he was only a two-star recruit, ranked as the 2,697th player in the nation, and the 122nd linebacker.
Coming out of high school, he committed to Toledo initially, before switch his allegiance to Purdue. On the decision, Barnes said, "Education is a big part of it... It's a blessing for me and my family... I'll be a great teammate, I'll give 100 per cent every day in the weight room, on the field and in games to help my team win games."
Barnes ended up playing mainly on special teams as a rotational player as a freshman, before becoming a 3-year starter. He started at the MIKE position as a freshman, before moving to the LEO role (a pass rusher lined up outside of the left end). They're not quite a Defensive End, and not quite a linebacker.
Barnes excelled in this role for two seasons, playing 25 games with 155 tackles, including 19 for a loss, 10.5 sacks, 2 passes defended, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery (per Sports-Reference)
In his senior year, he was moved back off-ball to the MIKE position, for the shortened 2020 college season. Even though this was only 6 games he impressed with 54 tackles, with 5.5 for a loss, his first interception and a pass defended. His excellent performances earned him an invite to the Reece's Senior Bowl.
Of his practices in the Senior Bowl training week, Pro Football Network said "[Barnes] had a good week...There were some concerns over whether he could move well [with his weight and height]. I think he proved himself to have decent athleticism for that size, and he also provided a steady presence in the linebacker group. He wasn't much of a playmaker beyond his initial utility. However, he showed a lot of traits that suggest he can at least keep things clean at the next level." During the game, Barnes logged three tackles to do his draft stock no harm.
In terms of where Barnes seems himself at the next level, he spoke to The Draft Network and said "If I had the freedom to choose, I would say inside linebacker because of my physicality. I have the potential to reach the ball carrier and to drop in coverage. I'm one of those guys that can go sideline-to-sideline and make plays in the backfield."
NFL Draft 2021
Going into the draft, his final ranking on nflmockdraftdatabase.com was 144 on 4/29, up from in the 400s early in the process in January, reaching his peak at 122nd just a week before. Clearly, being taken at 113th by the Lions is not a big reach in the view of the groupthink.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein rated him a 5.82 - meaning he'd be a backup/core special teams player.
The Athletic's Dan Brugler in his "Beast" draft rankings gave Barnes a 4th round grade.
Ourlads rated him at the top of their fifth-round scoring.
PFF, unfortunately, did not rank Barnes in their top 200 players for 2021.
You can see the detail of these rankings nicely summarized by Yahoo.
Barnes is a twitchy player who is very aggressive. Playing at the LEO position in his sophomore and junior seasons, he produced sacks and run stops with regularity which belied his relatively small stature for the position. However, his stature did also see him struggle against more quality opposition.
Moving to off-ball linebacker in his senior season, perhaps his more natural position, he showed some good intelligence and instincts when it came to stuffing the run, and in coverage, but also showed his inexperience at the position, he was pretty shaky in man coverage and had trouble diagnosing plays at times.
Barnes is going to have a steep upward slope. Having a quality ILB coach like Mark Deleone and DC like Aaron is only going to help his ability to diagnose plays and coverage ability, whilst his twitch and first step will help in the run game.
I expect him to be a special teamer for the first half of the 2021 season, perhaps succeeding Alex Anzalone down the stretch, especially if and when Detroit are mathematically out of the running for the playoffs.
What say you OnePride?
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