As the Detroit Lions opened training camp on Wednesday, head coach Dan Campbell spoke about the importance of second-year players taking a big jump in 2022.
“We’re counting on it, we’ve got to have it,” Campbell said. “I mean if they don’t make a jump, we’re in trouble. That’s the bottom line because those guys are kind of our core and our foundation.”
One of those players is 2021 fourth-round pick Derrick Barnes. The 23-year-old linebacker struggled to hold onto a starting role last year, and was inconsistent for most of the season. That was to be expected for Barnes, who had only transitioned to the off-ball linebacker position in his final year at Purdue.
But despite his struggles, there are positives to take from his rookie season. Enough positives that Football Outsiders recently named Barnes the Lions’ most underrated player.
“Barnes, a 6-foot, 238-pounder with a 97th-percentile wingspan, is a classic inside linebacker with the strength to bang between the tackles and enough speed to work to the perimeter,” the website noted in a piece for ESPN. “His ability to take on blocks, find the ball carrier and tackle with consistency was impressive to watch out of a young player, much less one who was a mid-rounder.”
To get a little more perspective on Barnes and why Football Outsiders is so high on him, we chatted with Derrik Klassen in Part 2 of our Football Outsiders Q&A.
Football Outsiders recently named Derrick Barnes as the Lions’ most underrated player. Could you explain further why you were optimistic about his rookie season?
“His coverage work was pretty shaky, but I was encouraged with most everything else. Barnes’ blend of length, strength, and violence make him quite good at taking on blocks and collapsing space. I also think he showed quality range when working to the perimeter, even if he’ll never be an elite chase-and-space player. Hopefully another year in the system and working on coverage, which he didn’t do a ton of in college because he played on the edge for a while, can get him up to speed.”
This matches what Lions coaches have been saying this offseason.
“There’s not many in the league with that stature, with his power, with the way he can run and hit and can do what he can do, once he knows exactly what to do,” linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said last month.
Barnes will have a chance to win Detroit’s starting linebacker job outright this year, though he’ll have plenty of competition, too. This offseason, the Lions signed Chris Board in free agency, and he has been splitting first-team duties with Barnes thus far in camp. Detroit also drafted Malcolm Rodriguez in the sixth round of the draft, who has made a very early impression in Allen Park.
You can catch our previous installments of our Football Outsiders Q&A below:
- Part 1: Can Aaron Glenn orchestrate another dramatic Year 2 turnaround on defense?