The picks went off the board, oddly, unpredictably and then, all of a sudden, the Arizona Cardinals were on the clock at No. 13 overall, and the Eagles knew right then and there that they would have a great choice to make at No. 14.
That pick became, as we know, Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett, whom the Eagles absolutely loved. How much did they love him? As the Eagles broke down the first round of the draft into tiers, Barnett was in the very top grouping of elite players, a fistful of eight names.
And he was there at 14.
And the Eagles wasted no time calling him on the phone from the team’s Draft Room at the NovaCare Complex. Howie Roseman got Barnett on the phone, minutes before the network coverage pointed the cameras in Barnett’s direction, and broke the good news to him.
“Derek, wanna stay in town?” Roseman asked Barnett. “You ready to roll?
From there Roseman passed the telephone to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who spoke to Barnett briefly, and then Schwartz passed the phone to defensive line coach Chris Wilson, and then Roseman called up all of his scouts and all of the coaches and all of the few dozen of Eagles in the Draft Room hushed.
“Great job, guys,” Roseman said, and everyone clapped and gave high fives and whooped and hollered just a little bit to supplement all of the smiles. With about 50 seconds remaining “on the clock,” Barnett’s name was put up on the team’s official draft board and it was a wrap.
A very successful one, said the Eagles.
“Derek brings a warrior’s mentality. First and foremost, he brings production,” vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said. “Thirty-plus sacks in the SEC, a high level of production, a great first step off the ball, knows how to finish at the top of the rush, knows how to bend the edge and close, strong hands, gets the quarterback down, relentless motor. I could go on and on.
“He is our type of guy from a mentality and makeup standpoint.”
What the Eagles are saying with this draft pick – one that continues the path set forth back in 1999 (quarterback Donovan McNabb) and 2000 (defensive tackle Corey Simon) – is that they value the offensive line and defensive line. They have their quarterback in Carson Wentz, and now they are building around it. It was evident in last year’s draft how much the Eagles wanted to rebuild the offensive line when they used picks on interior lineman Isaac Seumalo and tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and they continued that commitment by signing guard Chance Warmack in free agency this year and retaining Stefen Wisniewski.
On the defensive side, the Eagles parted ways with end Connor Barwin and lost tackle Bennie Logan during the free-agency period, and they added end Chris Long, tackle Tim Jernigan, and now Barnett.
The result? The Eagles think they’ve got a deep group, a relentless group, a nasty defensive line.
“I think I’ve got a talented group,” defensive line coach Chris Wilson said. “What we’ve done is we’ve mixed in some key pieces with a strong veteran group. So what that does is it creates tons of great competition.
“That’s the goal. If you’re going to do what we do as far as an ‘attack’ front, the motor has to be a Ferrari on every snap. And this guy brings that energy and he brings that toughness from Day 1. The coaches at Tennessee say he was this way when he was a true freshman so that says a lot about who this guy is.”
That three quarterbacks and three wide receivers went before the Eagles were on the clock at 14 certainly allowed the Eagles to make their pick very confidently. They did their research on Barnett, sending waves of scouts to the Tennessee campus, canvassing Barnett’s inner sanctum, and doing everything they could do to know everything about him.
Everyone raved about Barnett, as teams always do after making a draft pick. But Barnett is just a kid, 20 years old (he will be 21 years old on June 25), and he’s got room to grow. Douglas said that Barnett is a “good run defender. I think he has the ability to be a great run defender,” but let’s be honest: This could take some time. It’s a huge transition from the college game, even at the SEC level, to the NFL.
“What we’re most excited about is what he’s going to bring from a mentality standpoint every day,” Douglas said. “He’s going to compete and he tries to impose his will on every snap. I can’t wait to get him in here.”
Excited? You should be. Roseman and Douglas let the draft come to them, and they ended up with a player among their Elite 8, a player who fits a need and who fits the profile of what the Eagles want. It’s also an old-school approach to build through the lines and win at the snap of the football.
The Eagles are positioned to do that after addressing the line of scrimmage heavily in these last two offseasons. The dividends will show when September rolls around.