Thursday night, former Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett realized a dream when his name was announced in Philadelphia as the 14th overall NFL Draft pick to the Philadelphia Eagles.
But like every player who heard their name announced as a first-round pick on the first night of the draft, Barnett wasn’t always the highly touted NFL-bound defensive end. He, too, was once a high school recruit.
Barnett was a 4-star strong-side defensive end out of Brentwood Academy in Tennessee in the Class of 2014. He was a longtime Tennessee commit, giving his verbal in October of his senior year of high school and holding out untilHe ranked as the No. 13 defensive end in the class and, oddly enough, wasn’t even the highest-rated player at his position that ended up at Tennessee.
Ranked ahead of him as a 4-star prospect and the No. 7 strong-side defensive end was Dewayne Hendrix out of O’Fallon, Ill. Hendrix took a very different path than Barnett, as he never recorded a sack with the Vols in seven games as a true freshman and ultimately transferred to Pitt, where he’ll be a redshirt junior in 2017. In his first season at Pitt, he sustained a season-ending injury in the first game.
Barnett, on the other hand, went on to break Reggie White’s career sack record at Tennessee, recording 33 in three seasons with at least 10 in each season. Last season, Barnett recorded a career-high 13 sacks.
In the Class of 2014, there were three 5-star defensive ends: Da’Shawn Hand, who went to Alabama, Solomon Thomas, who went to Stanford, and Malik McDowell, who went to Michigan State. Two of those players — Thomas and McDowell — have also entered the NFL Draft. Thomas had two productive years at Stanford, recording a total of 13 sacks, and was selected third overall by the San Francisco 49ers. McDowell had an up-and-down career with the Spartans, recording 7.5 sacks but just 1.5 his junior season before declaring for the Draft.
The third of that group, Hand, is still at Alabama but has mostly underwhelmed, recording just 7 sacks. More impressively for Barnett, that group of 5-stars boasts just 27.5 combined sacks, fewer than Barnett totaled in his career.
Overall, that class of 2014 was among the most highly touted of Butch Jones’ Tennessee tenure, ranking seventh in the country and fifth in the SEC. Barnett was the 10th-highest rated player in the class, with receiver Josh Malone, running back Jalen Hurd and safety Todd Kelly Jr. ranking as the three best players. Malone is expected to be a mid- to late round pick in this year’s draft, while the other two are still in college. Hurd transferred to Baylor after a tumultuous tenure in Knoxville while Kelly is still on the Vols’ roster.