Dallas Cowboys

If not Tennessee DE Derek Barnett, then who for Cowboys?

Derek Barnett appears a perfect fit for the defensive-needy Cowboys, but at 28, they aren’t likely to get the Tennessee defensive end.
Derek Barnett appears a perfect fit for the defensive-needy Cowboys, but at 28, they aren’t likely to get the Tennessee defensive end. AP

Jerry Jones had a slip of the tongue in the predraft press conference that revealed a pass rusher the Cowboys owner has on his mind. Speaking about the 2005 draft that landed DeMarcus Ware, Jones said, “We even got our [target] from Tennessee, Barnett….” He quickly caught himself and corrected it to “Burnett.”

The Cowboys drafted Tennessee linebacker Kevin Burnett in the second round in 2005. They would love to have Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett in the first round this year.

It isn’t likely.

Barnett’s stock has risen steadily, and he now projects as a likely top-10 pick. The Cowboys would be hard pressed to go from 28 into the top 10, because of the steep price. They need more defensive help than a “war daddy” pass rusher, though Barnett could be that.

Barnett broke Reggie White’s school record with 33 sacks, with 29 of those coming against SEC teams and 32 against Power Five opponents.

Barnett wrote a cover letter to NFL teams on The Players' Tribune on Wednesday. Barnett said, “When I’m selected in the upcoming draft, I’m pretty sure I know what the guys on TV are going to say: ‘This is the kid who broke Reggie White’s all-time sack record at Tennessee.’

“That’s true. That’s something I did, and it’s something I’m very proud of. 

“But one thing I want to make clear is that breaking that record was never a goal of mine. It wasn’t what motivated me or what I had set out to accomplish before I enrolled at Tennessee. Instead, it was a by-product. It was the by-product of countless hours spent studying offensive linemen. It was the by-product of coaches taking the time to help me develop my physical gifts. And it was the by-product of my teammates doing their job very well so that I could do mine.”

So if Barnett is gone, who do the Cowboys target?

Two defensive ends to keep an eye on are Missouri’s Charles Harris and UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley. The Cowboys have not hidden their interest in Harris, who had 17 sacks in three seasons. But he, too, could be off the board before the Cowboys draft.

McKinley, who also had 17 sacks in three seasons, has had two concussions that worry some teams. McKinley also had a groin injury that kept him from playing at 100 percent last season, and he also missed part of the draft process with a torn right labrum.

Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey of Alabama, Quincy Wilson of Florida and Adoree Jackson of USC could come into play if the Cowboys’ defensive end targets are off the board.

The Cowboys, who have seven picks, had only 36 sacks and nine interceptions last season, so they expect immediate help from this draft.