Bronc-ography: Shaquil Barrett's Remarkable Path To The Denver Broncos

Doc Bear chronicles Shaquil Barrett's remarkable journey to the Denver Broncos active roster.

Shaquil ‘Shaq’ Akeem Barrett was born on Nov. 17th, 1992, in Baltimore, MD., to Steven Barrett and Donyetta Hawkins. He was the fifth of six children, with three older brothers, an older sister and a younger brother. Having three older brothers may explain some of his toughness.

High School

Shaquil Barrett earned early national attention when he became an All-State defensive end at the private ‘Boys Town’ High School in Nebraska. He was also the school’s Athlete of the Year, winning the Class B Wrestling State Championship in the 215 weight class.

The balance, leverage and strength required for wrestling has been noted many times as beneficial for football players. As a 2009 senior, he had 70 tackles, including 12 sacks, 5 blocked kicks and 2 fumble recoveries. 

College

Barrett spent a year as a true freshman at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (Omaha!), but UNO decided to disband their football program. Shaq transferred to Colorado State University in the summer of 2011. He was able to play football as a true sophomore. There was no waiting period, since his last school had eliminated their program.

In his true sophomore season, Shaq averaged 8.2 tackles per game and earned a spot on Phil Steele’s Second-Team All Conference squad. He played San Diego State on November 22nd and helped limit future Bronco Ronnie Hillman to 80 rushing yards. Hillman was ranked second in the nation going into that game.

As a junior, Barrett moved to middle linebacker and started piling up awards almost as quickly as tackles. Four publications had him as a first-team preseason All-Mountain West athlete (Athlon, Blue Ribbon, MW media, and Phil Steele).

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Shaq also earned Phil Steele midseason first-team honors. He was still lining up at defensive end beginning the year, but moved to MLB. He played several positions at times.

As a senior, Barrett started all 14 games at linebacker for the Rams. He ended his year with 80 tackles, 3 blocked kicks, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and an interception.

He won the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and first team Mountain West honors. He ranked fifth in the nation with 20.5 tackles for loss, setting a Mountain West (FBS) record. He was also awarded the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year from SBNation.

He was fifth in the nation (FBS) with 12 sacks. Sports Illustrated gave him an honorable mention on their All-America team. He was named the Defensive MVP of the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 21st. He was then invited to (and accepted) the East-West Shrine Game, January 18th, 2014.

The Draft

By the draft, Shaq had a lovely wife (Jordanna) and two children, Shaquil Jr. (born in 2012) and Braylon (born in 2013). It gave him more reasons to succeed.

Bleacher Report had Shaq listed as one of their sleepers of the draft. Over the last three Broncos games, that designation has become obvious. NFL.com said that he didn’t pass the ‘eye-ball test’. They also noted that he may not look pretty, but consistently gets the job done.

Football Outsiders was prescient - they suggested that he’d be a great college free agent (CFA) fit for the Denver Broncos. Among other things, they noticed that Barrett had abused Cyrus Kouandjio when CSU played Alabama.

Pro Day

Every player without a Combine invitation needs a good Pro Day. Shaq’s was on March 12th,  2014. He did well. He timed from 4.53 to 4.73 in the 40-yard dash (may depend on reporting source).

He only managed 16 reps on the bench press (225lbs), with a 29-inch vertical leap. His short shuttle was 4.42 seconds and his 3-cone drill was 6.90. Those two drills deal the most with changes in direction.

Denver Broncos

Denver took Barrett as a CFA. Shaq came into his first year with the Broncos as most CFAs do - on the practice squad. The injury to Quanterus Smith brought him to the 53-man roster, but he never saw the field.

During this past offseason, Shaq met with the Broncos nutritionist. He wanted to get to the lowest weight that would still permit his startling power. Jordanna filled Tupperware containers with the foods that he would stick to, and he dropped ten pounds. It increased his quickness, already a strength. That meant he was a tick faster rushing the passer, or to fill a gap. 

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Barrett earned a lot of buzz during OTAs. But it was training camp and the preseason games that really earned him his slot on the active roster this year. Barrett was constantly around the ball or on the QB. He didn’t leave the Broncos any choice - he was a player they had to keep. It meant keeping five OLBs, but head coach Gary Kubiak didn’t flinch.

After three games Barrett had a cumulative score of +5.8 via Pro Football Focus. In only 37 snaps, he has 4 tackles (3 solo), a sack and a forced fumble. He hasn’t drawn a penalty and has positive grades in both pass rushing and run stopping. He’s not out there to drop into coverage - that’s not his strength.

His strength is flying around, disrupting plays. It’s rushing the QB. He has 2 QB hurries to add to his sack. Shaq gets surprisingly low going around the corner. He’s both lighter and more chiseled than last season. He’s strong and he’s getting stronger. 

Shaq has fully bought into what it takes to be an NFL pro. The film and strength rooms saw a lot of him. He understands what it means to develop a long career in the league.

He may not be ‘elite’ depth yet, but he’s on his way to it.

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Doc Bear is a Featured Columnist for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @alloverfatman.

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