CFB Player Bracket: Derek Barnett vs. Charles Harris
There are so many quality edge rushers in the SEC this season that once again a pair face off in this second-round matchup. Tennessee’s Derek Barnett advanced past Arkansas defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. in the first round, while Missouri’s Charles Harris overcame Illinois defensive end Dawuane Smoot.
To see the entire bracket and every matchup breakdown, click here.
The case for Derek Barnett
Tennessee edge rusher Derek Barnett earned a +54.0 overall grade in 2015, and a +42.7 pass rush grade — the best marks among edge rushers returning to college for the 2016 season. Such was his consistency that he didn’t finish a single game with a negative overall grade.
The +13.6 grade in the Week 12 game against Missouri stands out. Barnett generated nine total pressures in that gam – it was one of seven games in which Barnett registered at least five pressures. He finished the year with 10 sacks and 62 total pressures, giving him 21 sacks and 109 pressures in two seasons as a Volunteer.
Though he was a weak-side defensive end as a true freshman in 2014, Barnett typically lined up as the strong-side defensive end in the Volunteers four-man front during the 2015 season — 74 percent of his pass rush attempts came from the left. It was a switch that brought the best out of him. Barnett’s 13.1 pass rushing productivity score (a measure of pressure per pass rush snap), ranked 12th best among returning 4-3 defensive ends.
The case for Charles Harris
The latest in a long line of talented Missouri defensive linemen, Harris would likely have been an early draft selection had he declared for the NFL after 2015, his sophomore season. Fortunately for the Tigers he chose to return for another year, giving them one of the very best pass rushers in the nation.
After redshirting in 2013, Harris saw a reasonable amount of playing time as a freshman in 2014, as the primary backup defensive end behind Shane Ray and Markus Golden. While he made an impact as a pass rusher (three sacks and 18 total pressures), he struggled against the run.
However, as Gordon McGuinness notes, Harris was much improved in both aspects as a starter in 2015. His run defense grade jumped from -2.5 to +11.9 and his pass rush grade rose from +7.4 to +30.1. It wasn’t simply that he played more often, he was more productive on a per-snap basis – his pass rushing productivity score rose from in 2014 to 12.8 in 2015.
His form tailed off in November, but after the first ten weeks of the 2015 season he was the second-ranked edge rusher in the nation with a +44.2 overall grade, only Ohio State’s Joey Bosa bettered that. His 14.0 pass rushing productivity score at that point, made him the most productive 4-3 defensive end in the SEC through the first 10 weeks of the season.
Harris is an explosive athlete and knows how to use it to his advantage. If he reacts fastest at the snap he can gain the edge on the offensive tackle and turn the edge for a quick pressure. However, he is also adept at using that speed to set up the tackle for an inside move, as he does in the clip below, forcing the left tackle wide before spinning back inside for the sack.
The Verdict: Derek Barnett advances
The SEC is going to be absolutely loaded with talented pass rushers in 2016, and Barnett and Harris are two of the very best, choosing between them isn’t easy. Ultimately though, Barnett is just that bit more accomplished at this point, and that is the difference.
Harris finished 2015 with a +30.1 pass rush grade, sixth-highest among returning edge rushers, his +42.4 overall grade, fourth-best among returning edge rushers — Barnett had the top grade in both categories. Against Power-5 opponents, Harris ranks tenth among returning 4-3 defensive ends with an 11.8 pass rushing productivity score — Barnett ranked sixth with 13.6. Harris suffered a dip at the end of the 2015 season (his first as a starter), earning a cumulative -1.8 overall grade for the final three games – Barnett’s play was stellar for the entire season.