Armando Salguero

DE Derek Barnett pens open letter to NFL GMs, coaches ahead of NFL draft

Tennesse edge rusher Derek Barnett broke Reggie White’s sack record at the school.
Tennesse edge rusher Derek Barnett broke Reggie White’s sack record at the school. AP

Derek Barnett comes with no worrisome life issues, one NFL personnel man told me recently.

“He’s the kid you’d like your daughter to marry,” the personnel man said.

Yeah, especially since he’s going to be a first-round selection Thursday evening during the NFL draft, and he’s going to be rich, and he’s an excellent player, and yes, he’s got the makeup that just about anyone can love -- especially NFL teams.

The Miami Dolphins love Barnett. They have the University of Tennessee edge rusher and Missouri edge rusher Charles Harris high on their draft board, per sources, and would love to get either player in the first round. (There are some doubts Barnett will be there at No. 22 when the Dolphins pick so the Dolphins would probably have to trade up for him).

And it is easy to see why teams value Barnett -- aside from the fact he projects to be a Day 1 starter at a cornerstone position.

Barnett gets it.

The proof is in this cover letter to all NFL general managers and coaches the player wrote in the Players’ Tribune.

“I’m writing to express my interest in becoming your next dominant football player,” Barnett begins.

OK, he’s got my attention.

“When I’m selected in the upcoming draft, I’m pretty sure I know what the guys on TV are going to say: 'This is the kid who broke Reggie White’s all-time sack record at Tennessee.

“That’s true. That’s something I did, and it’s something I’m very proud of.

“But one thing I want to make clear is that breaking that record was never a goal of mine. It wasn’t what motivated me or what I had set out to accomplish before I enrolled at Tennessee. Instead, it was a by-product.

“It was the by-product of countless hours spent studying offensive linemen. It was the by-product of coaches taking the time to help me develop my physical gifts. And it was the by-product of my teammates doing their job very well so that I could do mine.

“Achieving that sack record definitely meant a lot to me, but I would have traded it away in a heartbeat to have won a championship while I was in college. So understand that even though I’ve achieved some noteworthy things and won some individual awards, they are not what drives me.

“I want to lead a defense. I want to be an important part of a winning team.

“I want to win a Super Bowl.”

Well, the cynic will say, “What do you expect him to say? Everyone says that.”

No. Everyone doesn’t say that. Everyone doesn’t put the emphasis on team accomplishments over individual accomplishment. Definitely not everyone just coming out of college.

Another thing teams -- including the Dolphins -- like about Barnett is that he isn’t a one-year wonder. He produced fairly consistently throughout his college career.

“I’m proud of the fact that I’m not a player who suddenly burst on the scene late in my college career. Since I arrived at Tennessee, I’ve produced consistently every single year. But that doesn’t mean I’m the same player I was as a freshman. Not even close.

“I was really lucky at Tennessee to learn from a bunch of remarkable coaches, including Steve Stripling. Every day coach Stripling had us working on our hands at the point of contact and how we anticipate the snap. I’ll tell you what, he was hard on me. From the very first day I arrived on campus, he was on me to refine whatever physical talents I had so that I could become a well-rounded football player.

“He taught me that the game doesn’t start when the whistle blows. It begins the week before, when you’re studying your opponent. You put in that work so that when the ball is snapped you’re able to use your instincts to make the best decisions possible.

“My freshman year, I played every down like my hair was on fire. But by the time I was a junior, the game had finally started to slow down for me. That’s what preparation does. That showed me that I was ready for this next challenge.

“I’m not scared of the tougher level of competition. I’ve spent the past three seasons playing in the best conference in college football, and I was able to find success even when teams tried everything they could to take me out of games.

“I’m not scared of the big stage. I know what it’s like to play in a stadium where you can’t hear the person next to you. I know what it’s like to line up across from a player who is just as physically gifted as me, and know that I can beat him using my superior technique.

“I know there’s still so much work to be done, but I also think that I’ve only scratched the surface of my potential.

“Right now, you might know me as the kid who broke Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee, but that’s not the only thing I’m going to be remembered for by the time I leave this game.

“I promise you that.”

Impressive.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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