Lions general manager (GM) Brad Holmes traded up in the 2021 NFL Draft, and he may end up being the steal of the draft. The linebacker was selected with the 114th overall pick in the fourth round, and the former Purdue Boilermaker jumped off the screen Friday night in Detroit’s preseason opener.
Obviously, we need to take preseason success with a grain of salt. Barnes entered the ball game after the starters exited and had been playing against Buffalo’s second and third-string offense.
In his Detroit Lions debut, the rookie sideline-to-sideline linebacker earned a stellar overall grade of 93.1, courtesy of Pro Football Focus. Barnes was given a 75.9 mark in tackling plus a 79 overall grade in coverage.
Detroit Lions’ rookie linebacker, Derrick Barnes, is trending up after making his debut.
The coverage grade stood out to me the most. Barnes made a wonderful play in coverage, tackling a Bills tight end after a strong play-fake to the left of the offense.
As you can see, Barnes is focused on his keys and does not get caught up with the play-action to the left (his right).
These are the types of plays that absolutely crushed the Lions linebackers during the Matt Patricia era.
In the video, check out where Barnes is lineup pre-snap and where the play is made. Barnes has the makings of a three-down starting linebacker if he continues to make these types of plays consistently. Do you know what is more impressive? Barnes is a converted linebacker. Barnes played as a defensive end during his junior season with the Boilermakers and transitioned back to a linebacker as a senior.
Now, check out what happened earlier in the ball game, on the same side of the field but with Jahlani Tavai playing linebacker.
Sure, this was a running back (Devin Singletary) leaking out into the flat after a play fake and not a tight end, but the concept is the same.
A play fake to the left and a throwback to the right. Also, the rush end to that side needs to recognize there is a running back that just took a ball fake and is leaking out to the flat.
Jahlani Tavai pre-snap is lined up in a similar spot as Barnes but bites hard on the fake and takes about FIVE steps to the right before recognizing what the offense is doing.
Tavai played 11 total defensive snaps Friday night and earned an overall grade of 29.9, which is horrendous. Although the 24-year old entered camp much leaner in 2021, he still looked slow, especially in coverage.
I expect Barnes to pass Tavai on the Detroit Lions’ depth chart quickly and should be spending some time playing with the first-team defense when Detroit travels to Pittsburgh Saturday, August. 21.