Former Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett has always had a penchant for making big plays. Barnett who replaced Reggie White as the Vols' all-time sacks leader was in on the biggest play of Super Bowl 52 as he recovered a Tom Brady fumble late in the game, sealing a 41-33 Eagles win. The rookie from Nashville fell on a Brady fumble when Tom Terrific was stripped of the ball by Brandon Graham. The turnover which set up a field goal giving the Eagles an eight point lead was the biggest single play of a Super Bowl that was filled with big plays.
Barnett who played his high school ball at Brentwood Academy before signing with Tennessee, was drafted 14th overall by the Eagles in last year's NFL draft.
He made plenty of big plays while playing for Butch Jones' Vols and he broke Reggies' sacks record in three seasons. His former Tennessee teammate, quarterback Josh Dobbs, tweeted a congratulatory message, saying, "Our World Champion @dbarnett 25! Congratulations Brother." Even losing quarterback Tom Brady spoke with Barnett in the tunnel following the game, showing a lot of class.
The performance by Barnett, winning a Super Bowl in his rookie season capped a great year for former Vols in the NFL. Josh Dobbs established himself as a legitimate back-up to Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and Saints running back Alvin Kamara was named the league's rookie of the year. It's really hard to figure out why Butch Jones couldn't win 10 games with those guys on the field.
Derek Barnett was among nine former SEC players who will be receiving a Super Bowl ring following the Eagles win on Sunday. In fact, Tennessee has had more former players to appear in a Super Bowl than any other SEC school. 61 former Vols have been in a Super Bowl; second only nationally to Miami who leads with 62.
Barnett's career with Philadelphia is off to a roaring start. He registered 21 tackles with five sacks in his rookie year. Those stats won't really knock your socks off but when you consider that his physical size is less than what you would expect from an NFL defensive end. Barnett stands 6'-3" and weighs 259 pounds. Now, that's a big man but when you consider the average size of an NFL defensive end is 6'-4" and 268 pounds, Barnett is a bit undersized. The late Reggie White played defensive end two decades ago at 6'-5" and 295 pounds, which clearly shows the position has evolved and is still evolving to a smaller, quicker pass rusher.
No matter what Barnett's size is, his big-play potential has not gone unnoticed. Perhaps his best game at Tennessee was his last game. It came against Nebraska in the 2016 Music City Bowl. Barnett had the sack that broke Reggie's record as well as eight other quarterback pressures, and five tackles. Those stats came despite the Cornhuskers double-teaming him the entire game.
While fans in Philadelphia will celebrate the Eagles first-ever Super Bowl win for weeks and weeks, I hope they realize just how bright the future is for their rookie defensive end. That future will most definitely include one big play after another; just like the one yesterday against the Patriots.