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A three-year starter, Barnett lined up primarily at right defensive end in a three-point stance in Tennessee's 4-3 defense, occasionally standing up or rushing from inside position -- most productive collegiate resume among pass rush prospects in this class.
He developed at an early age, which allowed him to make an instant impact in the SEC and established himself as the "heart and soul" of the Vols' defense, according to defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. He became the first Tennessee true freshman to start a season opener on the defensive line, setting school freshman records for tackles for loss (20.5) and sacks (10.0) in 2014 to earn Freshman All-American honors. Barnett started all 13 games in 2015 and led the team with 10.0 sacks, adding 69 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and one fumble to earn Second Team All-SEC honors. As a junior in 2015, he finished with a career-best 13.0 sacks and also led the team with 19.0 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles to earn First Team All-SEC honors.
Unlike most productive pass rushers, Barnett lacks explosive traits, but makes up for his methodical burst with powerful hands and off-the-charts awareness to consistently be in the right place at the right time. Although he doesn't have a high pro ceiling as a pass rusher due to his average athleticism, Barnett is a reliable run defender and his consistency on every snap is valuable.
STRENGTHS: Stout body type with broad shoulders and well-distributed mass. Natural flexibility to dip, stay low and get underneath blockers. Great snap anticipation to time up his get-off. Not an elite speed rusher, but controls his momentum well in short spaces to make stops. Flashes violence in his hands to free himself from blocks. Uses body position and pad level to leverage blocks. Persistent effort in pursuit to chase down ballcarriers from the backside. Extremely alert football player with above average run awareness, seeing through blockers to locate the ball. Smart reads to disrupt throwing lanes, knocking down five passes in 2016 and notching his first interception. Some experience standing up and dropping in space. Not a vocal leader, but teammates feed off his relentless energy and intense playing temperament -- the type of intangibles that will draw him to NFL coaches. Durable and highly productive with double-digit sacks all three seasons in Knoxville, breaking Reggie White's school record for career sacks (33.0) -- also tallied 52.0 tackles for loss over 36 starts.
WEAKNESSES: Can bend off the edge with his flexibility, but lacks explosive twitch to win the corner on athleticism alone. Initial quickness based more on timing than burst, leading to offside penalties or late movements out of his stance when he misreads the snap. Pass rush repertoire lacks variety and hand usage mid-rush still a work-in-progress. Aggressive play style will lead to missed tackles in the open field. Needs to improve his break down skills. Tight-hipped in space and has limited potential as a stand-up player.
NFL COMPARISON: Robert Ayers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Similar to another former Tennessee product, Barnett doesn't have dominant athletic traits, but he understands how to be productive with his ball awareness and technique.