BGA: Scouting Antwan Barnes
Bent , TheJetsBlog.com
Free agency is underway and the Jets have already signed a few guys that Jets fans might not know too much about. Over the next week or so (and throughout the free agent signing window), I’ll be taking a closer look at each of the new signings and trying to assess what they can bring to the table for the Jets in 2013.
In case you missed it, I looked at Antonio Garay yesterday. Today we move on to DE/OLB Antwan Barnes.
The 28-year old is 6-1 and 250-pounds and, like Antonio Garay, has been with the Chargers since 2009. He signed a three-year contract worth a possible $6m and looks set to compete for playing time on the outside following the departure of Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace.
Drafted in the fourth round out of Florida International, Barnes played two years with Rex Ryan’s Baltimore Ravens before joining the Philadelphia Eagles and moving on to the Chargers.
After the jump, I’ll be reviewing his career so far and looking in detail at how well he performed last season, before considering what he could provide the Jets with this year and going forward.
Who is Antwan Barnes?
Barnes played both as a defensive end and outside linebacker in college, where he set a school record for sacks, with 11 of his 22 career sacks coming in 2005. He rose up draft boards following a sparkling performance at the combine, where he ran a 4.43 forty and had 31 bench press reps, a 35-inch vertical and a broad jump of over 10 feet. The Ravens would eventually pick him in the fourth round.
Barnes made headlines almost instantly, as he was fined $12,500 for a vicious cheap shot on Eagles punter Sav Rocca in preseason. As a rookie he was primarily a special teamer, but did record 10 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. He first gained some recognition by schooling Matt Light for a sack on Monday Night Football as the Ravens nearly knocked off the unbeaten Patriots in the game best remembered for Bart Scott throwing the penalty flag into the crowd, then added his second career sack against Miami a few weeks later.
In 2008, he played 13 games, but couldn’t add to his sack totals, although he did manage to register five tackles, two QB hits and 11 pressures, as well as a pass defensed. 2009 began well for him, as he picked up his first career interception on this play, but it wasn’t until later in the season that he started to see regular time, recording three more sacks. The Eagles traded a late round pick for him in 2010, but he didn’t play much over the first few games and they ended up releasing him with just two tackles in two games to his name. San Diego picked him up and he has been there ever since, although the Jets did try and sign him two years ago. In 2010, he had 4.5 sacks and then in 2011 he earned more playing time, including five starts, when Shaun Phillips got hurt. Barnes would rack up a healthy 11 sacks and a career high 39 tackles.
In 2012, the Chargers brought Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram aboard, which with Phillips, Barnes and Larry English all already on the team created a bit of a log jam. With his playing time down, Barnes was still productive primarily in a sub-package role, but ended up with just three sacks and nine tackles, before being placed on injured reserve when he suffered a hamstring injury in week 13. Barnes averaged about 15 snaps per game, so let’s look at what he did last season.
Week 1 – at Oakland
Barnes got his season off to a good start with a fumble recovery on this play. He would later add three pressures, showing an ability to get to the quarterback in a variety of ways. The first saw him make a quick step to the inside of the left tackle, the next saw him bullrush to push the left tackle back and flush the quarterback out of the pocket and the last saw him drive with a good initial thrust from the left side and then get around his man’s outside shoulder.
Week 2 – v Tennessee
He didn’t make much of an impact in week two as he saw action on just 10 snaps, recording one tackle.
Week 3 – at Atlanta
Barnes had two sacks and a pressure in this one, although one of the sacks was negated by a defensive penalty in the secondary. That one saw him blow by an attempted chip block by the slot receiver, who then stepped back and tripped the left tackle over so that Barnes could chase down Matt Ryan close to his own goal line. The one that did count saw him get inside leverage with a strong bullrush. He recorded a pressure on a play where he was initially blocked, but came off his man to the inside when Ryan stepped up in the pocket.
Week 4 – at KC
He saw more action in week four but didn’t manage to generate any pressure. However, he made a good play against the run, setting the edge well and then coming off his block as the runner cut back inside to make a tackle for a loss.
Week 5 – at NO
In this game, Barnes saw a season high 31 snaps (in 2011, there were six games where he played more than 40). He got pressure on a number of occasions. First, he dipped his shoulder to the inside and then blew by the right tackle on the outside (although Drew Brees threw a touchdown pass on the play anyway). He then blew by the left tackle and chased Brees from behind as he rolled out to the right, hitting him as he threw a dump off for a short gain. Finally, he again got round the outside and Brees stepped up and rushed his throw, which was intercepted.
Week 6 – v Denver
Barnes was only on the field for seven snaps in this one, although he did make one good play, reacting well on a 3rd and 11 draw play to come off his block on the edge and make the tackle.
Week 8 – at Cleveland
In this game, he was only on the field for 12 snaps, but did make a couple of impact plays. He was able to hit the quarterback, coming off his man as the QB looked to escape pressure off the edge and he reacted well to blow up an attempted draw play on 3rd and long for no gain. There was also a short yardage play where they exploited him in the running game. This was well-designed, with the tight end coming back to block Barnes from the side to set the edge, something he obviously wasn’t expecting.
Week 9 – v KC
Barnes got some good pressure in this one, although he also jumped offside on a key 3rd and five play. Again, he showed a variety of different ways of getting to the quarterback. First of all, he was standing up in the middle of the line and used his quickness to avoid the center on a blitz up the middle. Then he made an inside move from the right defensive end position – this pressure led to a pick six. Finally, he got to the quarterback cleanly on a well-exectuted stunt to the inside, but the quarterback was able to get rid of a quick throw.
Week 11 – at Denver
In Denver, he only saw action on six snaps, but did make an impact with a fumble recovery on a play where the halfback caught a pass and then the ball squirted out to Barnes. This might actually have been an interception rather than a fumble, but since the ball never hit the ground, the Broncos had no reason to challenge it.
Week 12 – v Baltimore
This was Barnes’ most productive game of the year, with two sacks and a pressure. His first sack saw him size up the right tackle and get him on his heels, then just blow by him. His second saw him blow by the left tackle on the outside and strip the ball loose from Joe Flacco. There was one short yardage play where he was unable to set the edge. Again, this was a well designed play where the receiver motioned to his outside shoulder and then blocked him to the inside to prevent him from getting outside.
Week 13 – v Cincinnati
Barnes left the game early with a hamstring injury. In 14 snaps, the only thing of note he did was to commit a neutral zone infraction penalty. Barnes was then placed on injured reserve for the rest of the year.
Let’s summarize my observations into categories:
While Barnes is listed as a DE/OLB, he has played the majority of the time with his hand down (and made most of his better plays in that role). He only played 24 snaps from a standing position in 2012. However, he did play 203 snaps standing up in 2011 (out of 485 total). He played mostly on the right in 2012, although he did make some plays on the left. He played both sides in 2011.
His position in the Jets’ system will most likely be Rush Linebacker, which is Terrell Suggs’ role with Baltimore. Suggs also plays that position with his hand down the majority of the time and rarely drops into coverage, so Barnes would appear to be well equipped for this. He could also get some reps as a DE from a three-man front in pass rushing situations.
The best thing about Barnes’ pass-rushing is his terrific production. He’s been in the top 20 for pass rushing productivity at his position in each of the last five seasons, including 2nd and 3rd in the NFL in 2010 and 2011. Over those five years, he’s generated 21.5 sacks, 15 hits and 80 QB pressures in just over 800 pass rush attempts. By way of a comparison, six Jets outside linebackers combined for just under 800 pass rush attempts last year and they generated nine sacks, 10 hits and 45 pressures between them.
Barnes is not really a technician like Garay, but he sure knows how to use his speed and size to get into the backfield. His best moves are straightforward drive ahead and then change direction type moves, whether that be via a dip of the shoulder, a jab-step or using leverage to create an angle and some separation. The bottom line is that he can win one-on-one matchups better than the Jets’ starters at OLB throughout Ryan’s tenure.
Barnes didn’t play against the run much in 2012 – about 20% of the time – but he did play the run almost 40% of the time in 2011, grading positively per PFF, so he has shown the capability to do that. Where Barnes does get caught out in the running game, it’s usually by some kind of misdirection. On one play in 2011, he overpursued and got caught on the inside and the runner bounced the run to the edge. On another, he nailed the running back in the backfield, but the quarterback had kept the ball and was able to run for a first down to the outside. There were two examples noted above where he was in position to get outside leverage and set the edge on his man, only for another man to come down the line and surprise him by forcing him to the inside.
Despite these errors, I never saw any evidence that teams were able to exploit him in the running game. He is quick to get off blocks and explode to the ball and seems to hold his ground and read plays pretty well. This enabled him to make plenty of positive plays in the running game too. He also a pretty consistent tackler, with just four missed tackles in the last three seasons.
Barnes doesn’t drop into coverage very often – approximately once per game over the last five years – but seems capable enough of dropping off into an area to mix up the pass rush looks. You can see that he did that on the fumble and interception videos linked above – and then showed good reactions to the loose ball each time. I’ve seen concerns expressed that he isn’t capable of covering a tight end in a man-to-man assignment, but that’s not really something I’d expect him ever to do. He’s been targeted in coverage twice in his career, giving up one catch for nine yards.
As with Garay, the similarities between the Chargers’ system and that of the Jets should prepare him well for the Jets’ system. However, instead of a couple of months on the practice squad, Barnes has three years of experience playing for Ryan in Baltimore at the beginning of his career, so this should definitely ensure a smooth transition.
Unlike Garay, Barnes does get his hands up on the pass rush. He’s been credited with four passes defensed in his NFL career, all of which were either batted at the line or deflected in the passing lane.
Barnes’ combine workout numbers are outstanding … and remarkably similar to those of a guy named Bryan Thomas. However, unlike Thomas, he does display that kind of athleticism on the field – even as he enters his late-twenties. Granted, Thomas was a good 15 pounds and four inches bigger than Barnes, but he was a more pedestrian run-stopping specialist in comparison to the more dynamic Barnes.
Barnes has committed 14 penalties in five years, including six in 2011. Most of these are offside or encroachment penalties and – as I mentioned in the context of Garay – it could be a product of the fact that the Chargers get their defensive linemen to try to figure out the snap count and gamble to try and get a jump at times.
As noted above, there were a couple of plays in the running game where he was caught out, but he does seem to have good reactions and made some good reads in the running game. Scheme familiarity will help with this.
Barnes seems to play hard and is capable of handling starter reps. In 2011, he had three games in a row where he was on the field for more than 50 snaps and played well.
Barnes is an excitable player, as shown by his reactions to some of his big plays. This hurt the team in 2011 when he got himself ejected against the Raiders – see footage here. Like Garay and Willie Colon, this could be another player who plays with a chip on his shoulder, which might be just what this team needs.
Unlike the other players the Jets just acquired, Barnes is entering his prime and hasn’t had many injury issues. Even though he was placed on injured reserve late in the season, I get the impression he could still have played, but the Chargers opted to deactivate him to give some reps to young players like Bront Bird and Andrew Gachkar.
One outside-the-box thought I had was that maybe they could develop him into an inside linebacker to play some reps in the JACK role alongside David Harris. This wouldn’t necessarily require him to read-and-react as much as a traditional inside linebacker, since his primary objective could still be to attack the line of scrimmage and take out a designated lead blocker. Players like Bart Scott, Adalius Thomas and Mike Vrabel have made such a transition in the past.
While his drop-off in playing time and total production last year is a concern, he still had four sacks (one negated) and likely would have amassed more in the Chargers’ last five games, which featured some poor teams (including the Jets, who of course surrendered 11 sacks against them). Although his playing time dipped, his production as a pass rusher was still pretty good, although not as good as in 2010 and 2011 where he was producing at an elite level.
His role with the Jets will depend on how well he can perform against the run, but his performance in that discipline has been pretty consistent, with positive run defense grades for each of the last five years, albeit sometimes in a limited role. With the Jets expected to add at least one more outside linebacker, either via free agency or a high draft pick, Barnes looks set to contend for a starting role, but will certainly be expected to be productive in sub-packages.
There’s no reason to believe he won’t contribute, even if it’s only as a designated pass rusher, but this is another move with upside. If he produce anywhere close to what he did in 2011, this could prove to be a bargain.