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The First Pick
New Eagle Derek Barnett gets ready to take the field
By Dave Spadaro

It was a whirlwind pre-draft period – too many dinners with NFL team executives, too few workouts and a barrage of media responsibilities. But that all ended for University of Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett when the Philadelphia Eagles selected him with the 14th overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft on April 27.

Barnett happened to be in Philadelphia at the time, invited by the league to walk the red carpet in front of 100,000 fans who jammed the city’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the more than 4 million viewers, according to the Neilson Ratings, who watched on NFL Network and ESPN.

Accompanied by his mother, Christine, who raised Barnett and worked three jobs to support him, Barnett spent the next two days in Philadelphia doing the media circuit, shaking hands and kissing babies and, most important, getting his introduction to the Eagles coaching staff and players.

Now an NFL player, the 20-year-old Barnett reflected on a remarkable journey.

 

Eagles EVP of football operations Howie Roseman, Derek Barnett, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson and Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas. Photo: Philadelphia Eagles

 

Q:What was the feeling when you heard your name was called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell. “With the 14th pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Philadelphia Eagles select …”

Barnett: I was waiting in the back area for a long time. It felt like 24 hours had passed before I heard my name called. Actually, my phone rang before that with a 215 area code and I was like, “Could this be the Eagles?” They showed a lot of interest in me prior to the draft. I talked to the Eagles, and they told me they were going to pick me and I went blank. I was overcome with emotion. By the time I heard my name called and walked to meet the Commissioner, I was having an out-of-body experience. It was incredible.

 

Q: You looked like it all hit you at once at your table. Were you emotional?

Barnett: I was, but I wasn’t crying. I had a lot of people hit me up with texts asking if I was crying. I WAS NOT crying. I was just trying to absorb it all. I’m not sure I’ve done that even now. It is taking a long time to sink in.

 

Q:What kind of player did the Philadelphia Eagles draft?

Barnett: I love the game of football. I’ve loved it since I was in fifth grade. I’m going to give it everything I have, and I’m going to play with passion. This is my profession now. I want to be a great football player in the NFL. What I’ve done in the past – I have to thank all of my coaches and the people who have supported me – but all of that is in the past. I have to prove myself every day now. They aren’t going to give me anything. I’m going to play hard, and I’m going to get to the quarterback. That’s my job.

 

Q:You broke the late Reggie White’s sack record in college. Reggie will always be a legend in this area and among Eagles fans. What do you know about him?

Barnett: He is a legend at Tennessee to this day, so I know a lot about Reggie. I’ve watched his film. I’ve talked to his widow, Sara. There is a huge image of Reggie at Tennessee that we see every time we run onto the field. He was the best there ever was. If I can even be mentioned in the same sentence as Reggie White in the NFL, I know I’m going to be doing my job.

 

Q:What was the draft experience like for you?

Barnett: It was intense. I’ve been preparing for months, since my college season ended. You go through a lot of interviews and dinners. You meet so many people and answer so many questions. It’s exhausting, but I understand what it means. I had fun with it, as much as I could. I’m glad now that I can just play football. I missed some workouts the last few weeks, so I need to get back into my best shape. We have a long season ahead.

 

Q:What have people told you about playing in Philadelphia?

Barnett:I’ve kind of seen the passion of the fans already from the draft and then meeting people since then. They love their football. They love the Eagles. Can’t ask for much more than that from the fans. I’ve heard it’s a great football city, and that it’s intense. When you play hard and give it everything you have, the fans appreciate you. I’m going to love playing here.

 

Q: You’re only 20 years old (Barnett turns 21 on June 25) and now you’re joining a league of men who are much bigger and more experienced than you have seen before. What will be the hardest part of your transition?

Barnett:It’s going to be extremely challenging in every capacity, and I embrace that challenge. I love competition. I’m going to fight every day. I know that every snap of the ball will be contested and that I have great players to go against. I have to get better in every phase of the game. I have to be patient, just keep working hard and pushing myself. I’m not content just being drafted in the first round. My goals are much higher. Going against older players who have a lot more experience, that’s probably my biggest challenge.

 

Selecting Barnett

Derek Barnett was on the Eagles’ radar long before the NFL Draft’s first round in April. He was a wanted man months earlier.

“We were watching tape in January and word got around, and we were like, ‘We have to find a way to draft that guy,’” says executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman. “You turn on the tape, and you see why.”

Barnett recorded 33 quarterback sacks in his three seasons at the University of Tennessee, setting a school record. At 6 feet 3, 259 pounds, with arms that measure 32 ½ inches long, Barnett has the right measurables to merit the draft choice.

The Eagles love him for all of that, and more.

“He stands for what we want to be, and I think everyone in this city will see what kind of person he is, what kind of player he is,” Roseman says. “Unbelievably high character, unbelievable worker, and tremendously talented and productive.”

How much can Barnett, as a rookie, impact the Eagles in 2017? It really is up to him. The Eagles have veterans Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Chris Long already on board. Barnett has to work his way into the lineup, starting now.

“He doesn’t have to come in and be the ‘guy’ right away,” Roseman says. “We expect him to contribute and help us right away, but he doesn’t face all of that pressure. He’s got some veterans to learn from and guys who don’t want to give up playing time. It’s going to be extremely competitive, and that’s exactly what we want.”

“We want to pressure the offensive line and win the battle at the line of scrimmage on every play,” Roseman adds. “We have a rotation, and we can use a lot of different players to win at the line of scrimmage. Getting Derek was a win for us on the first night of the draft. I can’t wait to see him in uniform and see what he can do as a Philadelphia Eagle.”

 

 

Photo: AP Images

Bringing Up Barnett

Eagles first-round draft pick Derek Barnett walked the red carpet at the NFL draft with his mom Christine, who he credits with instilling in him an unbreakable work ethic. Christine was a single mom who worked two jobs to make ends meet. She waited tables on weekends and worked the night shift at UPS during the week. She says the UPS shift worked well for her because she was home by 3 am – before Barnett and his two siblings woke up for school. A young Derek was always aware and appreciative of his mom’s sacrifices, often thanking her for things like making him dinner and driving him to a friend’s house. “He’s mature beyond his years,” she says. “I love everything about him.”

June 2017
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