Darkhorse Breakouts: DE
Updated: Sep 8, 2019
Which off-the-radar defensive ends could possibly break into the top 24 this season? The Big 3 give their picks.
This article is adapted from this episode of The Big 3 IDP Podcast.
Derek Barnett, Philadelphia Eagles (Bobby)
Derek Barnett was drafted in 2017, and at 23 years old, and is going into his third year with the Eagles. In my opinion, the Eagles have the least amount of depth at that position that they've had in a long time. You have Chris Long's retiring and Michael Bennett going to New England. That's two solid starters gone. Brandon Graham is 31 years old.
This is a make-it-or-break-it season for Barnett. The first six games of last year, he showed a bit of that breakout potential with 16 tackles, 2.5 half sacks, and 17 pressures. People within the Eagles organization likely thought he was putting it together until a shoulder injury landed him on the IR. Barnett has only played 740 snaps in the last two years, whereas Brandon Graham played 755 snaps just last year.
The key to Barnett's breakout potential is simple: his health. If Barnett can stay on the field, I think the rest will come together for him. We know he's talented and that the opportunity will be there. If I'm penciling in a successful year for Barnett, I'd say 16 games played (that would be a big accomplishment), 40 tackles, 8 sacks, and 10 tackles for loss.
More than anything, the Eagles need him to play this well to have a successful defensive line. We know the Eagles have a great offensive here and new weapons like Miles Sanders and DeSean Jackson. But they have to stop the ball, and with the departures of Long and Bennett, that comes down to Barnett. I like him as a DE2 this year.
Takk McKinley, Atlanta Falcons (Josh)
Similar to Bobby, I'm going with a defensive end who's been plagued by injuries so far in his career: Takk McKinley of the Falcons. He finished 40th last year among DEs in our main league. He played 15 games and had low tackle numbers but good pressure/sack numbers: 15 solo tackles, 7 assists, 7 tackles for loss, 10 QB hits, and 7 sacks.
This hype piece was a promising read from earlier this offseason. Any time a coach is hyping a guy up, you take it with a grain of salt, but I like what Quinn said here:
“I think he’s lighter, his speed and versatility seem ramped up,” Quinn said via the team’s website. “For him to go through his first offseason, as you know he missed with his left shoulder, his second year with his right shoulder. To see him lighter, faster and more explosive, that to me was someone who jumped out.”
McKinley also gets the benefit of consistency with the coaching staff. Dan Quinn has been there McKinley's entire career, and this season he's acting as the defensive coordinator. You also like what the team did with its money, with is its most important asset. At the end of the day, that tells you what they really think of their players. The Falcons did not draft any competition outside of a fourth round pick, which was John Kaminski from Charleston at the 135th overall pick. That was the only DE they took during the draft.
Bottom line, McKinley isn't a bad player, he's just been hurt. He had the two shoulder injuries his first two seasons. Now, as a high a high draft pick who's been looking faster, lighter, and more explosive, it's safe to say he's healthy for the first time in three years. I think his talent is going to shine through this year, which is why I'm projecting a top 24 finish for Mr. "Fine Me Later." You know who agrees with me? The Atlanta Falcons.
Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints (Adam)
Marcus Davenport is a big boy. He's 6'7" and 265 pounds. He's 23 years old going into his second season with the Saints. At the combine last year, Davenport ran a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash, which is in the 95th percentile via Player Profiler. Think about a guy who's 6'7" and 265 pounds coming at you with that kind of speed. He's a total athletic freak.
Some more metrics via Player Profiler. His speed score was 120, which is 95th percentile. His burst score was in the 72nd percentile. Davenport has elite traits, which is why he went in the first round of the NFL Draft, and why New Orleans gave up a 2019 1st round pick to get him. At the time, everyone thought they were moving up to draft Brees' successor in Lamar Jackson. Nope! Marcus Davenport was the pick. They clearly liked this guy and invested a lot in him, so the opportunity is going to be there this year.
Last year he played 417 snaps, which was only 41% of the snaps. I think he could double that this year. In the 13 games he played, he had 22 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, 2 passes defensed, and 1 forced fumble. We know this guy can get to the QB, so if his snap percentage does end up close to 80%, I think he'll finish with double-digit sacks.
Keep in mind: he played about half of last season injured. It was bad enough that he needed surgery this offseason, but he's ready to go for the season. And the Saints need him! They lost Alex Okafor to Kansas City. He played 656 snaps last season. They also lost Tyler Davidson and his 421 snaps to the Falcons. Sheldon Rankins is still working his way back from an Achilles injury. One of their recent picks, Carl Granderson, is spending six months in jail after being convicted in July of sexual battery.
Given Davenport's talent and his opportunity, it's no surprise coach Sean Peyton said:
“When he played last year, we feel like we saw some real good traits, to where we feel like this guy is gonna be a dominant player for us.”
I agree with Coach Peyton. I'm projecting a top 24 finish for Davenport in 2019.