Derek Barnett Has Advantage Most Rookies Don't

A lot of NFL first-round picks are expected to show up on Day 1 and not only start but also become top contributors for their teams. 

Derek Barnett hasn't been met with those same expectations. 

While Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry have remained the Eagles' starters at defensive end - both have played at an extremely high level this season - Barnett has been able to rotate in and learn from them and the rest of his talented new teammates. 

It's a pretty good position for the rookie to be in. 

"We really never talked about it, to be honest with you," defensive line coach Chris Wilson said this week. "What he has done, these guys have really brought him under their wings. Guys like Fletcher (Cox), guys like Chris (Long). 

"And [Barnett is] a guy who you really want to help because he's hungry to learn and be a great player. He spends the time and effort to come in and these guys like that. They like being big brother and showing the tools and the tips that can help him. It's been fun to do that."

Having solid players in front of Barnett and being a part of what has become a dominant defense has certainly helped the rookie. There's no question about it. 

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But Wilson didn't want the advantageous situation to take credit for Barnett's growing success. 

The rookie deserves credit of his own. 

 "It hasn't been, 'Hey let's put the rookie out there to put him out there,'" Wilson said. "He's been a productive player since we got him in here. He was productive in the preseason. He's beginning to be a really productive guy during the regular season. I have to give him credit as much as anything; he puts the work in." 

Barnett has played 261 of 578 possible snaps (45 percent) this season and has been on the field in some crucial situations. The coaching staff trusts him. 

When asked for the area in which Barnett has improved the most, Wilson didn't hesitate to say "in the run game." Wilson said that aspect can be difficult for a rookie because of the physicality at the NFL level. 

Barnett has been good against the run this season. He's had a chance to watch and learn from Graham and Curry, who are both also pretty stout against the run. That's helped. 

"Absolutely," Wilson said. "It's always good to see it in person and actually be able to physically touch it and watch these guys. The drill work, see how they work the drill work, to see how they go in and study the tape of the run game and things to look for in the run game. That's been big for us. He's been able to sit down with those guys and say 'OK, in this set, this is what we see and this is why we see it this way.' And that always benefits a young guy."

While Barnett has performed well against the run all year, his pass rush is starting to really come on. He has just 2½ sacks but has been getting more consistent pressure as the season has progressed. 

The 21-year-old rookie is looking more comfortable on the field with each game, but he's been comfortable in the defensive line meeting room from the beginning. 

Wilson said his meeting room is open and honest by design. Wilson cited an old saying: "You can't heal what you won't reveal."

"Derek's a very open guy," Wilson said. "It's like anything; it's the culture in the room. If you have something that you need to say, say it. You might get hammered for it, but you've got the freedom to give your opinion, that you're a part of the solution. Once he found that out, he was good and he knew to ask the right questions. That was the biggest thing I learned from this guy."

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