Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett is viewed as the top such prospect, and really the top overall player in the 2017 NFL Draft. Running backs, defensive linemen, and quarterbacks are getting plenty of discussion as well, but one intriguing pass rush option could be Tennessee’s Derek Barnett.
Barnett broke Reggie White’s career sacks record, and his stock seems to be rising heading into the pre-draft process. However, there are some that seem skeptical. NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein spoke with an AFC North scout about Barnett. He had this to say:
“Barnett generates a lot of discussion out on the road. He's physical and he's got great production, but some scouts just don't think he'll be able to translate those numbers to the pros because he's not very explosive off the ball. He won't overpower NFL tackles like he did in college.”
Zierliein said he had some reservations about Barnett following 2015, but he thinks he is seeing more from him in his 2016 tape. He had this to say (more here in Barnett’s draft profile):
Barnett, who broke Reggie White's UT career sacks record last season, is powerful, but also has deft hand work that can gain him a quick win. Pass rushing on the pro level isn't only about speed and edge-bending -- it's also about strength and hand skills. Barnett takes efficient routes to the quarterback and his ability to stand up as a run defender should not be underestimated. The production he posted over three years in the SEC wasn't an accident. He'll be a good pro starter.
There is the occasional mock draft that has suggested him as high as the 49ers No. 2 pick, but most have him further down in the middle of the round. Is this someone the 49ers target early, or maybe move down to try and add some picks? Of course, if Mitch Trubisky or DeShaun Watson is the guy Kyle Shanahan wants, maybe none of this will matter.