KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Derek Barnett left Tennessee after surpassing NFL Hall of Fame member Reggie White as the school’s all-time sacks leader, but Barnett’s draft stock is “fluid,” according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.
“Barnett, I want to see how he tests out,” Kiper said on his Thursday teleconference. “He was a really good college player, (but) is he explosive enough, does he test out well enough.
“That’s the question there.”
The NFL Scouting Combine takes place Feb. 28-March 6 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Barnett is the only player in SEC history to have double-digit sack totals three consecutive seasons. And in addition to breaking White’s sacks record with the Vols he finished No. 2 all-time in tackles for loss with 52, one behind NFL All-Pro Leonard Little.
The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Barnett closed his career in orange and white with a dominant performance in Tennessee’s 38-24 Music City Bowl victory over Nebraska. He also had 6 tackles and 4 QB pressuresin that game.
“A great word to describe him is ‘relentless,’ and he is very competitive,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “He has said it that the harder you play in this game, the more you’ll be rewarded, and he exemplifies that.”
Kiper projected Barnett to be selected No. 31 to the Atlanta Falcons in his first mock draft, though he concedes the Nashville native could go higher.
“Barnett could go anywhere from 13 to where I had him to Atlanta at 31,” KIper said. “There’s a fluid rating on him for that reason, I want to see how he tests.
“It’s a great defensive line draft, and a great defensive draft overall.”
Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett continues to be ranked ahead of Barnett at defensive end by most NFL Draft analysts, even though Barnett had 29 of his 33 sacks against SEC competition, while Garrett had 12 of his 32.5 sacks in league.
Former Auburn offensive lineman and current ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic said the tape on Barnett will impress.
“His measureables won’t add up to some of the elite edge defenders you see around college football,” Cubelic said, “but he has great flexibility, something that’s not talked about with defensive linemen very much.”
Barnett is expected to be the first Tennessee player picked in the first round of an NFL Draft since offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James was selected 14th overall in 2014.