Darren Page, DLD Lead Scout
Colorado State pass rusher Shaquil Barrett is going to be an intriguing prospect to follow throughout the draft process. How he’s viewed in public opinion and eventually viewed by the 32 teams who say yay or nay will say a lot about how those different entities view the balance between the athletic upside or splash impact prospect and the developed consistency of a less athletic prospect.
In a perfect world, draft prospects would all exhibit the athletic upside that suggests they will be much better professional players once they have access to NFL coaching methods. They would also exhibit a developed skillset as a young player that shows an ability to adapt and take to coaching. The stock of prospects that fit both bills runs out quickly on draft day. Then teams begin to weigh the upside of athletic anomalies like Tavon Austin against the consistency and developed skills of a guy like Keenan Allen. Athletic talent usually wins out, as personnel directors and coaches convince themselves they are the ancestors of King Midas.
That doesn’t sound like good news for Shaquil Barrett’s draft day dreams, but he’s far more talented than his combine numbers are likely to tell. Barrett has had to take the difficult route into the eyes of scouts, one that went through a division two school only to have the football team disbanded after his freshman season. He transferred to Colorado State and began on the path to the top. He’s now among the most productive edge defenders in all of FBS. Barrett has racked up 20.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, 2nd and 3rd in the country respectively.
The boom in Barrett’s production is the product of a high football IQ and an ability to grow his game from year to year. It’s also no coincidence that former All-Pro linebacker Joey Porter joined the coaching staff at Colorado State over the summer as an undergraduate assistant. Under the tutelage of Porter, Shaquil Barrett has risen to the top of the ranks of FBS pass rushers. He even throws in Porter’s signature sack dance on occasion.
The arc of Barrett’s growth may indicate a player with upside and room still to grow as an NFL rusher, despite his lack of a tremendous build or raw athletic ability. Simply put, he’s trending upward both physically and developmentally. He also might be more explosive and quicker than his measurables will indicate.
A prospect “playing faster than he times” might be an overused cliché, but there can be truth to it at times. By anticipating plays and playing with the kind of understanding that cuts out indecision, a defensive player can get to his spot twice as fast as an athletic defender who plays confused.
As a rusher, getting the snap timed up and finding a rhythm in getting off the ball is very important. That’s what Shaquil Barrett does on this play, making highly-touted tackle Cyrus Kouandjio look like a chump in the process.
Alabama has a play action pass on with a five step drop. As a rusher who faces doubles and chips on a frequent basis, Barrett makes the most of his 1 v. 1 situations on the edge. Barrett actually leans in anticipating the snap count and puts a hand on the ground to stay onside. He then fires off the snap with burst generated from his lower half.
The quickness with which Barrett gets off the ball allows him to threaten the corner and is what makes this play a success. Kouandjio is forced to generate momentum in his kickslide with his arms. Notice where Kouandjio’s hands are as he tries to get depth and combat the speed rush. By getting off the ball in such quick fashion, Barrett keeps the hands of the offensive tackle off of him as he dips his shoulder and wins around the corner.
The balance and flexibility needed for a rusher to flatten out and pop back up on the edge is no issue for Barrett. A good chunk of his sacks are products of that attribute. He has also developed in the nuances of pass rushing technique, which allow him to be more than a one-trick pony.
Once again, the opponent (lowly UTEP in this case) clears the backfield and leaves a tackle on an island with Shaquil Barrett. Bad idea. Only this time, the tackle isn’t outclassed by Barrett’s burst off the line of scrimmage. This is where a quality rusher shows his versatility.
There isn’t a pass rusher alive who can press the corner with speed and get the tackle to overextend on an every down basis, much rather with any regularity. Rushers can still make use of their flexibility on the corner by playing the tackle straight up before redirecting to the outside. The key is to create space with hands, keeping the tackle’s hands off. That is exactly what Barrett executes on this play. He sets the tackle up with a hard jab step to the inside and jumps to the outside. By batting away the hands of the tackle, he can dip his shoulder and turn the corner in about half the time. The quarterback was a sitting duck.
The impact Shaquil Barrett makes as a pass rusher is the hallmark of his game. He’s far from a slouch as a run defender though. In fact, his instincts and scheme understanding have him thriving at the point of attack for the Rams.
Utah State attacks Barrett’s side of the formation with an outside zone. The numbers are important here. Colorado State has the advantage in the box, especially if the nose tackle keeps himself from getting scooped by the left guard. The point is that if Barrett gets reached by the right tackle and turned to the inside, it could be a jailbreak for the Aggie back around the corner. His job is to get the right tackle stood up and steer the run back inside to his help.
This all comes down to play recognition and technique to defend it. Barrett loves to shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield, but that can only get him in trouble defending the outside zone against a competent right tackle.
By meeting the tackle head on and controlling with his hands on first contact, he can now dictate the block. Barrett has the upper hand through by controlling the block and locating the ball quickly. Because he gets under the pads of the right tackle, he can create penetration by pushing him backwards and set a hard edge. As soon as the back cuts it up, he disengages and slides right into the hole for a TFL.
Barrett’s work in the running game by controlling the edge to contain plays and string them out combined with his propensity to cause disruption in the backfield is a recipe for an edge defender who is ready to play in the NFL as soon as he gets drafted. The catalyst to Barrett’s success as a run stopper is play recognition and his aggressive style. Alignment, assignment, and attack.
On the opposite side of the rushing attack spectrum from Utah State’s outside zone is this power from Colorado. Barrett is stacked on the tight end, who doubles down on the defensive tackle with the Buffs’ left tackle. Colorado wants to kick out Barrett with their fullback and lead their pulling guard up the hole. By diagnosing the play as the unblocked end, Barrett is able to disrupt this play at its point and shut it down completely.
Similar to a back in pass protection coming forward to meet a blitzer, the unblocked end must “eat grass”, as Mike Mayock would say, in order to meet the block and pinch down the hole. By diagnosing the play and attacking it, Barrett is able to do this.
He meets the fullback head on and stands him up. As expected, Barrett’s finds the ball with his eyes while he takes on the block. When the back stays on his inside path behind the pulling guard, Barrett throws aside the fullback and stuffs the play in the backfield. It’s another example of Barrett’s ability to take on blockers head on, find the football, and shed the block to make the tackle.
With the build Barrett has, 6’2” 250, he may not be viewed as a traditional 4-3 defensive end. That won’t be a problem for him. He rushes from 2- and 3-point stances and from tight and wider alignments on a regular basis. On occasion, he drops into coverage for the Rams and his football IQ takes over.
Colorado State had a specific plan for handling A.J. McCarron and this play is a great example of what they tried to do. They show blitz and back out of it with their inside linebackers, playing man coverage with the three cornerbacks. Specifically for the pass rush, they keep their ends in a contain role to keep McCarron in the pocket. Barrett won’t attack the outside or shoot to the inside and risk letting McCarron bolt out of the pocket.
This is where Barrett shows an attention to detail and an understanding of the gameplan. As McCarron plants his back foot on his drop, T.J. Yeldon leaks out of the backfield and into his underneath route. Even on third and nine, giving up the check down to Yeldon with acres of space to run into is not a welcome play for the Rams.
In response, Shaquil Barrett is going to drop underneath Yeldon’s curl and take away that option from McCarron. This forces McCarron to come off Yeldon and leave the pocket as he searches for a downfield receiver to find. Notice the way Barrett still has his eyes on McCarron as he drops underneath Yeldon.
When McCarron escapes to his right, Barrett will flip his hips and turn on the jets to chase him down and force a throw-away. The work Barrett did on this play is a testament to his instincts and situational awareness. He is one of those football players whose mind operates on a different level than others, allowing him to make affect plays in multiple dimensions such as this one.
Those plays are a few of the many examples of Shaquil Barrett making plays quicker than a high-level athlete could because his football IQ and gameplan acumen are on another level. Being able to comprehend the scouting report and diagnose a play doesn’t get a player drafted though. Barrett’s development of the finer skills needed to be a successful edge defender, combined with his instincts as a defender, will make him the type of player who is destined to have a long stay in the National Football League.
All clips are taken from DraftBreakdown.com and their page on Barrett, which can be found here.