Is Antwan Barnes the Missing Piece for the New York Jets Defense?
The New York Jets earned a lot of criticism for selecting defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson with the No. 13 overall pick. It wasn't because of his talent, which is undeniable, but because of his position, which was not a big need for the Jets headed into the draft.
The bigger need—or at least the consensus need among fans and analysts—was at outside linebacker, where Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas combined for 5.5 sacks at a combined age of 66 years old.
The Jets did not re-sign Thomas and they cut Pace before re-signing him, so their confidence in last year's duo is clearly lacking.
Thus, there could be a great deal of pressure on outside linebacker Antwan Barnes to provide the pressure off the edge that those two players could not in recent years.
Barnes burst onto the scene for the San Diego Chargers after joining the team in Week 6 of the 2010 season.
He used an inside fake against left tackle Matt Light to get to Brady on a key 3rd-and-goal in the second quarter.
There's no exotic blitz here from the Chargers, just a straight-up four-man rush against the Patriots in the 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers) in the shotgun formation.
With Barnes' quick steps, he was able to extend his arms into Light's pads to keep the tackle from engaging a block. The defensive end won the matchup by his third step and then simply charged hard at the quarterback for the sack.
His numbers were even better in 2011, when he ranked second in pass-rushing productivity among 3-4 outside linebackers behind only 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith.
Barnes was placed on injured reserve in 2012 with a hamstring injury, which is why he was available to the Jets at such a low price (three-year, $3.3 million contract), but he is a fit for what the Jets need. He was drafted by the Ravens in 2007, so he is no stranger to Rex Ryan's defense either.
In fact, it's not even the first time in the Ryan era the Jets have expressed interest in a reunion with Barnes, as they were linked to him when he was a free agent following the 2010 season.
For all this praise of his pass-rushing abilities, Barnes is not the best run defender. At a svelte 251 pounds, he has trouble setting the edge against bigger offensive tackles, but that's where the Jets' recent drafts comes into play.
They have focused on adding beefy defenders for their defensive line, and while the likes of Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Sheldon Richardson are all regarded as solid interior pass-rushers, they also don't sacrifice size against the run, with all three weighing over 290 pounds. Coples himself has moved to outside linebacker this offseason, and will be providing his rush off the edge along with Barnes.
As long as there are no major lingering effects to Barnes' hamstring, he could be just what the Jets need in their pass rush. Let's just hope he has better plans for a sack dance.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all stats obtained from the Sports-Reference.com network and all quotes obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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