Today we're going to look at defensive lineman TJ Barnes, who the Jets signed to a futures deal at the end of the season. The 23-year old Barnes is listed at an enormous 6'7" and 364 pounds. He was undrafted last year out of Georgia Tech and spent time with Jacksonville in preseason before signing with the Jets in October and spending the remainder of the season on the practice squad. His cousin is former Jets tight end Fred Baxter.
After the jump, a brief look at footage from his time with Jacksonville to try and assess some of his strengths and weaknesses.
Who is TJ Barnes?
In college at Georgia Tech, Barnes gradually worked his way into the rotation and was a full time starter by his senior year, earning all-ACC honorable mention honors. At the scouting combine he showed impressive athleticism for his size when he ran a sub-5.2 forty yard dash (with the same time as Kenrick Ellis). He was a projected late round pick in last year's draft, but went undrafted.
The Jaguars signed him after the draft and he played for them in all four preseason games before being a final cut. He had recorded five tackles and a pass deflection. The Jets signed him in October and he remained on the practice squad all the way to the end of the season.
Barnes played over 100 snaps in preseason, so I watched every play to get an insight into his potential.
Week One - v Miami
Barnes played 26 snaps, all in the second half, recording three tackles and a pass deflection.
As you'd expect, Barnes is good at holding his ground. On one play, he held his ground well and bottled up the run right at him. The only times he was driven off the line were when he was double teamed, although on a couple of occasions he was pushed back by an initial double team but then able to recover his ground when one of the linemen peeled off.
Barnes was removed from the game on passing downs, but when they did pass with him in there, he was generally limited to trying to push his blocker back. There was only one play where he really drove his man back and his route to the quarterback was blocked off by the center coming across. He did get his hands up in the passing lane, deflecting one pass incomplete.
On outside runs, Barnes made a good effort to stay in front of the play, although there was one play where he didn't get across in time and another where he allowed himself to be taken out of the play because his momentum was going downhill on a cutback run. When moving downhill, he was able to use his size to drive his blocker toward the path of the runner a couple of times. He was cut at the line on one play, where he could perhaps have shown better awareness.
Miami scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter on a play that Barnes almost blew up. He got good penetration into the backfield, but was unable to make the stop in the backfield. See that play here.
Week Two - at NY Jets
Barnes played 36 snaps, all in the second half, recording one tackle. He played two snaps as a nose tackle, which is notable because every other snap he had in preseason was as a defensive tackle in a four man front.
In this game, Barnes was blocked out of a few plays, but did show a good effort to keep persevering. On one play he was blocked to the outside initially but fought it off to pursue to the inside and on another he was initially blocked at the point of attack but was eventually able to get in on a tackle in the backfield as the runner was forced to cut back inside.
As a pass rusher, he drove Caleb Schlauderaff back on one play, but was mostly handled with double teams. There was one play where he didn't get any kind of surge but did keep the quarterback contained in the pocket when he stepped up, leading to a sack from behind.
Again most of his best work was in terms of holding his ground to bottle up runs, but there was one play where he fought through traffic going downhill to get in on a run stuff. Perhaps his most impressive play saw him burst into the backfield to almost disrupt the hand-off on a draw play. As in the previous game there was one play when he overpursued downhill and was blocked inside leading to a cutback lane. There were a couple of goal line plays with him anchoring the middle. The Jets were stuffed on the first but just broke the plane on the other.
Week Three - v Philadelphia
Barnes played 16 snaps, all in the last 6:16. He recorded one tackle.
There was one play where he helped contribute to a tackle for a loss by driving his blocker into the path of the runner. On another, he pursued the back into the backfield, but took a bad angle and allowed the back to get outside on him. That should have been a touchdown, but the runner slipped as he turned the corner.
You can watch the Eagles go-ahead touchdown and two-point conversion here. On the touchdown, Barnes (#98) is initially driven back at the line and although he does manage to fight off the block, it's too late for him to be able to help prevent the runner from getting outside. On the two-pointer, he is moved off his spot by an intial double-team and then the center peels off to block the linebacker in the hole while the left guard finished Barnes off by driving him back and to the ground.
As a pass rusher, the Eagles threw a lot of quick, short passes, so he didn't have much chance to make an impact. He did continue to get his hands up well though.
On one play the Eagles tried to cut him at the line and he avoided it to pursue downhill, showing that he had learned from that happening a few times in the previous two games.
Week Four - at Atlanta
Barnes played 28 snaps, all in the second half. He did not record any statistics.
He was blocked out of the middle to create the hole for this long touchdown run. Once again, as had been the case in each of the first three games, this happened because Barnes tried to get a quick first step so he could get outside leverage on his man, but his blocker was able to use his momentum against him to drive him out of the path of the run.
In this game, Barnes once again helped bottle up a few runs, but there were a couple of plays where he couldn't quite get across laterally fast enough and also a screen pass where he wasn't able to get off his block. On one fourth down stuff, he got some penetration to force the run back inside.
He didn't contribute much as a pass rusher again, although he was doubled a lot and did disrupt a passing angle on one play.
With his combination of size, strength and athletic ability, Barnes is an intriguing project. While he didn't make a series of spectacular or outstanding plays, there was plenty in terms of solid plays and positive contributions and not too many negatives.
It's fair to say that he is susceptible to being taken out of the play on cutback runs and he doesn't offer much as a pass rusher. Both of these issues could be fixable, though. In terms of positives, it's not easy to move him, he - unlike Ropati Pitoitua before him - uses his 6'7" frame well to disrupt passing lanes and I was particularly impressed with his effort levels and motor.
Barnes doesn't quite have the ability to move laterally that Ellis and Damon Harrison have, but there was a pattern of Barnes almost blowing up the kind of plays Harrison and Ellis were routinely stuffing last year. Therefore, if Barnes can find an extra yard of quickness, whether that comes from him losing some weight, showing better technique or just reading and reacting to the play a beat faster, then you can see that the potential is there for him to develop into a similar kind of player. He might also benefit from being able to play a conventional nose tackle role with the Jets, instead of being employed as a 4-3 DT as he was with the Jaguars. He did play in both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses while at Georgia Tech.
While we should be careful not to overstate what Barnes achieved in preseason because he was going against backups all the time, that's just a sign of where he is on his current development curve. In that regard, I don't think it's a stretch to say that he was no less impressive as a rookie as Harrison was. However, Harrison made phenomenal strides in his second season and we should in no way consider history to be likely to repeat itself.
With Ellis and Harrison both out of contract at the end of the season (although Harrison will be a restricted free agent), Barnes might have an outside chance to make one of them expendable. With Rex Ryan and Karl Dunbar's track record for developing linemen, you have to feel good about their chances of ironing out some of the kinks and giving Barnes a chance to continue to develop but his opportunities will be limited because he has two great players ahead of him right now.
We'll be looking at more players throughout April.