Bucs Briefing rolls on with our in-depth look at the 2019 tape of each key member of Tampa Bay’s 2020 roster, including the team’s top two pass rushers in Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, as well as a fading star defensive tackle in Ndamukong Suh, who will be asked to fill a major role in 2020. Can these guys spearhead one of 2019’s best defensive lines yet again?
Joining me this week to break down three of the Bucs’ defensive line assassins is Bucs Film Analyst and co-host of the Going Deep podcast, Steven Cheah, who is also a contributor for us here at Pewter Report, doing occasional film breakdown pieces during the season. Make sure you’re following him on Twitter @StevenCheah!
EDGE Shaq Barrett – 6-2, 251 – 27 years old – 7th season
An undrafted free agent who didn’t even see the field as a rookie in 2014, Barrett spent his first five NFL seasons toiling in relative obscurity in Denver before finally breaking out in Tampa Bay during year six. A long-time fan favorite as a Bronco due to his Colorado State career, Barrett was just a part-time player in Denver, totaling 14 sacks and 15 starts in five seasons.
Barrett saw the most action in 2017, when he played 67 percent of the Broncos’ defensive snaps and recorded four sacks. General manager John Elway selected edge rusher Bradley Chubb with the fifth overall pick in the draft a few months later, and Barrett’s snap share fell to 26 percent in a contract year.
Still, Licht had seen enough to offer Barrett a one-year, $4 million contract to raise his stock in Tampa Bay. Barrett responded by leading the NFL in sacks with 19.5, an insane accomplishment in today’s era of elite pass rushers.
Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett – Photo by: Getty Images
“So Barrett is an interesting case because he was an undrafted guy out of Colorado State,” Cheah said. “He was cycling on and off the practice squad early but was on a team that was an elite defense at that time with the ‘No Fly Zone’ and two future HOFers in Von Miller and Demarcus Ware starting. They also drafted Shane Ray in the first round that year, who played the same position, so I imagine he didn’t get a ton of reps to show what he could really do.
“Shane Ray obviously didn’t work out, but just when you think Shaq is going to get his shot after being a solid rotational player, they take Bradley Chubb fifth overall in 2018. In coming to Tampa, Director of Player Personnel John Spytek was with him in Denver and obviously knows what he can do, so taking a one-year, $4 million flier on a guy who you have inside knowledge on at a position of need is a good thing.”
One of the main reasons that Barrett went undrafted was because of his unimpressive athletic and physical profile at the NFL Scouting Combine. He jumped just 29 inches in the vertical and weighed in just over 250 pounds with arm length in the eighth percentile (32 1/4 inches) for edge defenders. While Barrett may not have impressed in those areas, his 6.9 time in the 3-cone drill was fifth-best in his class at the position.
“You look at Shaq’s size, just over 6-foot-1, 250 pounds with short arms, and you aren’t wowed by anything,” Cheah said. “Not a fast 40 guy, nor does he show anything super indicative of an explosive athlete. But he did have an exceptional 3-cone time which shows great change of direction and agility.”
That’s one of the most important results for edge defenders, because it denotes that bend and flexibility that allows rushers to threaten the edges of blockers, dipping under or through contact to run tight arcs to the pocket. Barrett had some ridiculously flexible pass rush reps in 2019.
Barrett might not be the most explosive edge rusher, but he isn’t afraid to jump snaps and he gets some great take-offs as a result. Up above, he’s all over Taylor Decker in Detroit as soon as the ball is snapped, hitting him with a double swipe to knock down the tackle’s punch and then cornering with some outstanding bend through contact at the top of the arc.
“He made his money off of one main move – a dip-and-rip where he utilized his less than ideal height and lower center of gravity, in addition to his change of direction skills, to take advantage of bigger, slower offensive tackles,” Cheah said. “He also times the snap really well. Sometimes you will see him jump offsides, but more often than not he’s stressing the tackle because he can get a really good jump.”
Barrett has awesome body control and balance. Some of the reps where he keeps moving in a coordinated fashion despite taking several shots are pretty insane. His destruction of rookie Kaleb McGary in Week 12 and in Week 17 was truly biblical. Four sacks, 18 pressures (per Pro Football Focus) and a forced fumble (not all on McGary) highlighted the veteran’s dominance.
Barrett absorbs three shots from McGary here, but because he’s constantly reducing his surface area and turning the corner while Matt Ryan steps up in the pocket, none of the blows end his pass rush. Barrett had plenty of cleaner wins one-on-one last season, but his balance and ability to keep changing directions through contact on this play blew my mind when I studied this game.
He also realized that when McGary is going to overset him, the closest distance between any two points is a straight line.
Barrett’s change of direction and ability to hit inside counter moves is probably the most underrated part of his game. Yes, most of his pressure comes from getting a great jump off the snap and cornering at the top of the arc, but when tackles start oversetting to take away his edge rush, he wastes no time crossing their face and churning out pressure through the B gap.
Barrett is stylistically very different from Jason Pierre-Paul, primarily winning around the outside edge of tackles to set up inside moves, while rarely using power to work through blockers to the pocket. The former Bronco is at his best when he can keep himself clean with pass rush athleticism (speed, burst, bend/flexibility, change of direction), but his growth as a pass rusher who knows how and when to use his hands is the reason for his 2019 breakout.
“He’s used a ton off the edge just to rush,” Cheah said. “Pro Football Focus has him dropping into coverage just 56 times last season, which is pretty much in line with Khalil Mack’s percentage. He benefits greatly from other players around him, especially the defensive tackles like Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh. Those guys aren’t letting QBs step up, and you’re seeing Shaq able to run to a spot and chase a QB that can’t step forward.”
Outside of his tantalizing ability as a pass rusher, Barrett is just an all-around quality football player. He played almost 80 percent of the Bucs’ defensive snaps, he never takes a play off when he’s on the field, he’s physical in the run game, he’s extremely aware in coverage and he’ll chase down plays nowhere near his assigned area.
Barrett avoids the cut block, finds the football on the swing screen and makes the tackle for just a short gain. That’s a play that is easy to overlook, but really important on a third-and-long in field goal range.
There really hasn’t been a season of Barrett’s career where he’s disappointed as a run defender. He’s assignment-sound and controls his gap well despite his lack of length for the position. Don’t even think about trying to block him with a tight end. Disrespectful.
One area that Barrett could really stand to improve is penalties. He was second on the team last year with 11 penalties, 10 of which were pre-snap (offsides or neutral zone infractions). One of the downsides to Barrett’s constant snap-jumping is that savvy quarterbacks will get him to jump with hard counts, but it might just be one of the things you live with because his style also leads to a ton of drive-ending production.
“I don’t think he is quite Khalil Mack, Von Miller or one of those elite guys,” Cheah said. “That being said, I’d say he’s still better than a good starter. We’re also only talking about one full season as a starter. But while he started off like gangbusters, he didn’t slow down, either. The last time he was on a football field he had three sacks. I’m excited to see what he can do in year two in this system.”
Barrett, who was given the franchise tag this offseason, is close to a finished product at this point in his career, but he should have several years of peak play left in him. Sure, he might not lead the league in sacks again, but not many players pull that off twice. His 2019 tape looked like a player who could be a consistent double-digit sack artist, even if offenses roll a little more protection help his way in 2020. I wouldn’t expect much drop-off from Barrett in level of play, even if his sack numbers dip slightly. The Bucs are currently trying to work out a long-term contract extension with Barrett this offseason.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.