Front multiplicity is all the rage when it comes to today’s defenses. The NFL requires its linebackers to be athletic, physical, and versatile nowadays. If you’re looking for a prospect in this year’s draft class that checks all of those boxes, Purdue’s Derrick Barnes would have you look no further.
Barnes spent his time at Purdue playing as both an off-ball linebacker and on the edge, and was incredibly productive at both positions. Barnes enjoyed a breakout season rushing the passer in 2019, accounting for 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss after working as more of an off-ball player in 2018.
Barnes recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his experience at this year’s Senior Bowl, what position he sees himself playing at the next level, and which all-time great he would love to pick the mind of.
JM: What was your experience like at this year’s Senior Bowl?
DB: It was great. It was a blessing to even be there. Me getting an invite proves that hard work pays off. The week went by slowly but it was a great experience. I had a chance to meet with all 32 teams. I was around some of the top players in the nation. It was an amazing experience. I enjoy meeting new people. It was great to be coached by the Miami Dolphins’ staff at practice. It was all very cool.
JM: You met with all 32 teams formally as you said. Did any of those meetings, and it can be several, stick out to you in particular?
DB: A lot of them did. A lot of NFL teams were very familiar with me as a player and prospect. They had watched a ton of film on me. It was great to get a chance to sit down in front of all 32 teams and express myself. They wanted to know about where I came from and where I grew up.
We spoke about my time at Purdue. They wanted to know more about the player I am. They wanted to get to know me personally as well. I thought it was really awesome.
JM: I want to move on to your time at Purdue. You were used as both an edge player and an off-ball linebacker. Tell us about the role that you played there.
DB: Let’s start with my sophomore year. I was an inside linebacker on any given down, and I rushed the passer in our nickel package. It was cool. That was awesome, I loved playing that versatile role. I had never done anything like that before. We were kind of struggling in terms of getting to the quarterback so the coaching staff was constantly searching for solutions and they landed on me. They saw me as somebody that could rush the passer.
My junior year came around and the coaches asked me to play defensive end all year long. I wasn’t going to play inside linebacker anymore. I was kind of bummed about it at first.
I thought about it for a little bit and told myself that sometimes you have to take routes you didn’t expect if you wanna get where you wanna go. I had to be versatile. It was a good experience. I learned a lot of new techniques. Studying film as a pass rusher was very different than it was as an inside linebacker. It all worked out. I played a good role for the team that year rushing off the edge and making plays in the backfield. I was a playmaker at the defensive end position. I took on a new role to help my team win games.
JM: That’s an excellent peek into how your collegiate career played out. Which position do you think you’ll play at the next level?
DB: Speaking with all 32 teams at the Senior Bowl, some of them see me as an inside linebacker and others see me as an outside linebacker. If I had the freedom to choose, I would say inside linebacker because of my physicality. I have the potential to reach the ball-carrier and to drop in coverage. I’m one of those guys that can go sideline-to-sideline and make plays in the backfield.
You never know what could happen. Some teams told me they see me as an outside linebacker. Others see me as an inside linebacker. It all depends on their scheme.
It doesn’t really matter to me at the end of the day, but I see myself as more of an inside linebacker at the next level.
JM: That’s interesting to know that there isn’t a consensus on how teams view you. You must have developed a special level of trust with the coaching staff at Purdue for them to ask you to play a different role on a yearly basis.
DB: My first year there, we had a lot of seniors. We had guys like Ja’Whaun Bentley, T.J. McCollum, and a few others. Markus Bailey was still there as well. Us freshmen linebackers, we knew that our role was going to change as the years went by. We struggled coming in but we all got better as time went by.
My sophomore year came quickly. I was announced as a starter and my role changed. I had to be a leader out there. I showed up on time every day and held guys accountable. I helped guide the young guys. I always knew what we were trying to achieve on defense.
You said it best, my role evolved over the years. I took on a different role as a junior. I was initially disappointed about switching positions to defensive end. The coaches trusted me to do it and I couldn’t let them down. They believed in me.
It ended up being a decent year for me. I improved technique-wise and I put up some great sack numbers.
Coming into my senior year, I held the inside linebacker role. I had to be a vocal leader on the field. I studied extra film. I always put in extra work. It was on me to bring the defense together. I helped bring the young guys along.
Even though we didn’t have the season that we wanted to have, the guys developed throughout the year and I’m proud of the job I did as a leader. The young guys looked up to me. They came to me to discuss real-life issues. It wasn’t just football all the time. I was so glad that I could play that role at Purdue.
All the players and coaches that are still there, I wish them nothing but the best. I know that we have some great leaders there, guys that are going to step into their new roles.
JM: I love to hear that. One of the things that jumps out at me about your game when I turn the tape on is your physicality. Earlier, you mentioned that you see yourself as an inside linebacker because of your ability to play physical. I agree with you. How did you develop into such a physical tackler?
DB: It was always taught to me. Going back to when I was younger, I played some running back. I played on the offense growing up. I was always a bigger guy. I always weighed more than the next kid. I was known as an aggressive player (laughs). In every sport I played, I was the aggressive one. It was just something that came naturally to me.
I rather do the hitting. Nobody loves getting hit (laughs). I was the most physical player on my high school team. It stuck with me. You always have to keep your strength. It starts with how you prepare. I’ve always been tough and physical.
That’s how I developed into a great tackler. The coaches at Purdue helped turn me into a better tackler. We did a lot of tackling. We took those things seriously in practice. I continued to develop. If you do it in practice, you’ll do it in the game. I give all the credit to the coaches that helped me along the way. They honed my physical skills. I always kept the right attitude and saw that as one of my major strengths.
JM: It shows on tape. If you could pick the brain of any NFL defender, past or present, who would it be and why?
DB: I would choose Ray Lewis. I watch a lot of his motivational speeches. I have a great respect for the way he approached the game. He has such a genuine passion about him. He’s always been a role model of mine. I grew up watching him play. Football has always been calming for me. Whatever I was going through in life, football has always been there for me.
I see a lot of myself in his passion. This game has made me who I am today as a man. It taught me discipline. It’s about the small things. I’m talking about time management which is an everyday skill. I always realized what football could teach me off the field as well. Football has played a huge role in my life. It’s something that I love to do and I’m looking forward to continuing my journey.
JM: This has been terrific, Derrick. I’ve really appreciated your time today. In closing, what kind of impact is Derrick Barnes going to make at the next level?
DB: I’m going to make a huge impact. I wanna be one of those guys that come in and become a leader. My future coaches can depend on me. I’m going to build that trust with them. I’m gonna come in and work my behind off. I’m gonna dive into the playbook and I’m not afraid to ask questions. I want to make an immediate impact. If I have to play special teams as a rookie, I’m willing to do that. I plan on being an impact player right off the bat.