Measurables: 6-foot-1, 260 pounds.
2014 stats: N/A *practice squad.
Like almost all NFL players, Shaquil Barrett’s collegiate career was prolific and rife with achievement. Playing for the Colorado State Rams, he accumulated 246 tackles, 32.5 tackles for a loss, 18 sacks, seven forced fumbles and three interceptions (yes, you read that right). He also scored an impressive three defensive touchdowns. He did much of it as a married man, with children.
For an outside linebacker or defensive end, those are eye-popping stats. But for whatever reason, it wasn’t enough for a single NFL team to draft him. As a product of their own backyard, the Denver Broncos signed Barrett as an undrafted rookie free agent. He and CSU teammate Kapri Bibbs would continue to pursue their Mile High football dreams together.
As much as I liked Barrett as a prospect, I struggled to see his fit in the Broncos 4-3 defense in 2014. His size and skill-set are more built for outside linebacker in a 3-4. He did most of his best work in college standing up. As a strongside (SAM) linebacker, I could see Barrett succeeding, but the Broncos had an All-Pro in Von Miller already entrenched.
Behind Miller was Lerentee McCray, who had an impressive training camp in 2013, before ending up on injured reserve. The Broncos were high on McCray, making Barrett’s chances of making the roster even slimmer. To make matters worse, the Broncos drafted two linebackers in ’14 in Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson, even though they were not pass rushers.
Nevertheless, Barrett had a strong training camp and set himself apart. His work ethic and motor quickly landed him on the coaches’ radar. Alas, when it came time to make the final roster cuts, Barrett was on the outside looking in. He cleared waivers and the Broncos signed him to the practice squad.
Barrett would go on to have a tumultuous 2014 regular season that saw him get called up to the active roster, and subsequently waived, twice. However, if any young defender stands to benefit from the Broncos move away from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense, it’s Barrett.
Barrett is a strong, powerful pass rusher. He can rush the quarterback standing up from either the weak or strong side of the line. He’s also a disciplined run defender, which is a must for a guy looking to back up a Pro Bowl outside linebacker.
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If a rotational OLB is called on to spell a starter, he has to be multi-dimensional. Barrett is that. He’s not the most explosive athlete, but he makes up for it with savvy and power. He’ll be competing with rookie first round pick Shane Ray, as well as Reggie Walker, Chase Vaughn, Danny Mason, Gerald Rivers and McCray for a place behind Miller and DeMarcus Ware.
Some have even mused that Barrett could excel on the inside, although I’ve yet to see any evidence that the Broncos have tried him there yet. There is a veritable logjam at ILB behind starters Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan. When the team dons the pads for training camp, starting on July 31st, we’ll know more about how the Broncos coaches envision Barrett’s role with the team.
Barrett’s prospects of making the final roster in 2015 are good. The Broncos are likely to carry five OLBs, and Barrett could be one of them. If the speculation ends up being true and the coaches give him some looks at ILB, he’ll add versatility to the linebacker unit—able to stop the gap on the inside or outside, if called upon.