With training camp underway, the New England Patriots currently have 80 players officially under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer — just like we did the last three years as well — we will continue to take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with one of the recent additions to New England’s roster.
Name: Michael Barnett
Position: Defensive tackle
Jersey number: 76
Size: 6-foot-3, 310 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 RFA)
What is his experience? Four months after going unselected in the NFL’s 2020 draft, Barnett finally received an opportunity to play in the NFL: the Patriots brought him in for a tryout and subsequently signed him to his first rookie contract. While joining New England and appearing in a pair of full-pad practices for the team so far this week is the first taste of pro football life for him, Barnett does have some experience to build on from his five-year stint at the University of Georgia.
All in all, Barnett appeared in 46 career games for the Bulldogs — seeing regular action along the team’s defensive line each year with the exception of his 2016 redshirt season. That said, he served as more of a backup player early on in his career while playing on one of the deepest lines in all of college football before taking over a starting role in 2019. Along the way, the big-bodied defender notched 47 combined tackles, including an assisted tackle for loss, as well as two batted passes.
What did his 2019 season look like? Coming off the best collegiate season of his career up until that point — one during which he saw action in all 14 of Georgia’s games and even made his first start for the team — Barnett decided to stay in school for his final year of eligibility. The decision may not have led to him being drafted further down the line, but it did give him an opportunity to put more film on tape especially after being primarily a rotational option over his first three non-redshirt seasons.
That tape was the best he produced while with the Bulldogs. All in all, Barnett played in 13 of the team’s 14 games during his senior season and started a total of six contests. He registered 23 tackles as well as one pass deflection and three total quarterback pressures. The numbers themselves may not have been outstanding, but they were the best in a single season of his college career and helped Georgia field the best run defense in the country: with Barnett seeing regular snaps only 74.6 rushing yards were surrendered per game.
On top of it all, he was also named as one of Georgia’s three team captains for a mid-September game against Arkansas State — the first time he was honored in this fashion.
What is his projected role? When the Patriots signed Barnett to a rookie deal over the weekend, they added him to a defensive tackle group that was already set on the starter level with Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Beau Allen as the projected top-three. Allen being a no-show in training camp so far, however, has created some opportunity for other players to step up and fill the early-down two-gap role that has also been played by Barnett in college.
What is his special teams value? The Patriots like to use their defensive tackles in the kicking game as well, and the expectation is that Barnett will be no exception. In fact, he will likely have to prove his value on special teams to even have a realistic shot at making the practice squad let alone the 53-man roster: he will likely get looks on field goal and extra point blocking teams as a stout presence along the interior defensive line.
Does he have positional versatility? While Barnett does have solid length to serve in various roles along the defensive line, and also bring some experience as an end to the table, his versatility projects to be comparatively limited: he is a defensive tackle, who will likely align primarily between the guards — anywhere from the 3-technique to the nose. New England’s coaching staff will move him around to take advantage of his size and two-gap abilities, but he should not be expected to be much more than an early-down run-stuffer at this stage in his career.
What is his salary cap situation? Given that he remained unsigned for four months before the Patriots picked him up last week, Barnett was signed to a standard undrafted rookie contract: his three-year deal includes a base salary of $610,000 as well as no guarantees. Due to the NFL’s top-51 rule, the ex-Bulldog is currently not counting against New England’s salary cap — only if he makes the active roster or practice squad will this change.
What is his roster outlook? Barnett is another developmental rookie for the Patriots to work with, but he faces a steep learning curve considering his comparatively late arrival in New England. Accordingly, it would not be a surprise to see him become but a camp body: the 23-year-old has a lot of catching up to do in order to adjust to life in the NFL and make a serious push for a depth role at the defensive tackle position.