NFL Draft 2017: Can Derek Barnett start for Philadelphia Eagles from Day 1?
PHILADELPHIA — In drafting Tennessee’s Derek Barnett with the No. 14 overall pick Thursday, the Eagles infused much-needed youth into their group of defensive ends.
The Birds’ top three edge rushers entering the week were all 28 or older. Now, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Chris Long will welcome a fresh-faced rookie into the position room.
But can Barnett start from Day 1? And what will ripple effects will his arrival cause?
All that remains to be seen, but there is an avenue for Barnett to make a quick ascension and earn significant playing time in 2017. While Graham emerged as a star last season, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz never entrusted Curry with a large role, even after he signed a five-year contract in the offseason.
Long, 32, started six games for the Patriots last season and isn’t likely to shoulder a heavy load this year.
If Barnett, who broke Reggie White’s record with 33 sacks at Tennessee, can prove capable of pressuring quarterbacks as rookie, he’ll see the field plenty. The success of Schwartz’s defenses is predicated on rushing the passer with the front four, and Philadelphia lacked consistent production from edge rushers last year.
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And moving forward, the Eagles will likely bank on Barnett anchoring their defensive line deep into the future. Graham is 29, and his contract expires after the 2018 season, while Curry has yet to serve as a steady starter for the Birds.
With 2014 first-round pick Marcus Smith still searching for a breakthrough, the Birds’ long-term outlook at defensive end looked bleak entering the week. Barnett will have every chance to brighten it.
He’ll get to play on the same defensive line as two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, learn from veterans at his position and grow into a system designed to let pass rushers run loose.