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Why Derek Barnett Will Exceed Phil Steele’s Expectations in 2015

Derek Barnett was one of the best defensive ends in the SEC last season. Period.

Not just among freshmen, but the entire conference. So it’s bewildering that college football “expert” Phil Steele is unaware of this. At least, that’s the way it seems.

Steele released his preseason All-American and All-Conference predictions on his website Monday. The Southeastern Conference had 32 players represented on his All-American team, including 10 first team selections.

Barnett was named to the All-SEC third team — behind four other players — despite having the most tackles for loss and third-most sacks of any returning SEC player.

Here’s Steele’s explanation for Barnett’s ranking:

“In the same sense, there were a few oversights for my All Conference teams, most notably Tennessee DE Derek Barnett being listed as 3rd Team SEC. Last year, Barnett made my final 2nd Team SEC last year as a true frosh and the other 1st Team SEC defensive linemen were gone, so he naturally should have made the jump to 1st Team.  How did this oversight occur then? Well, when determining All-Conference teams, I rely on my individual player power ratings, which consider height, weight, speed, PS#, NFL scout evaluations and, of course, their stats for last year and for their career.  Those numbers had Derek Barnett 1st team SEC. To select my All-American team, I speak to my NFL contacts, particularly Gil Brandt, with whom I spent hours going over each of the top players for the draft. Since Barnett is a true sophomore, he is not eligible for the draft, so his name did not come up in those conversations and he was not fresh in my mind.”

What have we learned about Steele other than that uses “last year” too often in one sentence? That he garners criticism then places blame on colleagues? That he’s taken the credit of “Phil Steele’s All-American/All-Conference Preseason Team” when it should actually be “Gil Brandt tells Phil Steele who the most draft eligible prospects are?”

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 22 Missouri at Tennessee

Derek Barnett will look to lead the Volunteers to an SEC East title in his sophomore season.

It’s funny that Steele uses the “he was a freshman” excuse considering Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett — also a true freshman in 2015 — made his first team All-SEC list. You have some explaining to do, Phillip.

Both freshmen enjoyed incredible debut seasons. Garrett set the conference sack record with 11.5 and Barnett finished with 10. However, Barnett was more impressive considering all his sacks came in SEC play while Garrett’s were mostly in non-conference matchups.

Barnett also held a 20.5-14.0 advantage in tackles for loss, all while playing on a defensive line that returned zero starters in its season opener.

Steele will learn what Tennessee fans and opponents learned in 2014: Barnett is the most dominant Vols defensive end since Reggie White. Sure he’s only played one season, but it was the best freshman campaign in school history.

Barnett will exceed Steele, Brandt or whoever is responsible for his underwhelming ranking’s expectations in 2015. Mark it down, the rising sophomore will be the best defensive end in the SEC.

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