How high is Derek Barnett's ceiling in freshman season?
Tennessee’s Derek Barnett has already made history. In Week 1, Barnett became the first true freshman defensive end to start a season opener in school history.
The former four-star prospect made an immediate impact on Tennessee’s defense, starting all three games and recording 11 tackles, including two for loss and two quarterback hurries.
Facing his toughest test of the year, Barnett recorded a season-high five tackles with one for loss against No. 4 Oklahoma on Saturday. The freshman matched up against one of the nation’s most talented, experienced and largest offensive lines and played like a player with three years worth of playing time, rather than just three games.
Barnett is expected to carry the load on a defensive line that returned zero starters from the previous season. As the only freshman starter, Barnett has looked the most impressive in the trenches and will get better with more experience.
Surprisingly, Barnett has made the most progress of any freshman not to enroll early. Unlike several other teammates making an immediate impact, Barnett enrolled this past May and managed to adapt so quickly that coaches named him a starting defensive end prior to the Vols’ opening game.
Tennessee will need Barnett to continue his progress following this week’s bye. The Vols face SEC rivals Georgia and Florida in consecutive matchups and will need to see another strong performance from the talented freshman. Facing a depth chart that boasts the SEC’s top running back and several other top-tier backs, Barnett will have to provide a threat to stop plays in the backfield.
Barnett has the potential to become an elite SEC defensive end as his career progresses. As a freshman, he has an extremely high ceiling for a first-year starter and will continue to show improvement as the season continues.