Christian Barmore Takeaways: Patriots Rookie Has Unique Skill Set

Christian Barmore can be a three-down defender for New England

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Christian Barmore is completely unblockable.

It’s late in the third quarter of Alabama’s College Playoff National Championship Game against Ohio State, and the Buckeyes are in a third-and-3 situation at their own 42-yard line. At the snap, Barmore stands up Ohio State guard Harry Miller at the point of attack. The Alabama defensive tackle sheds Miller easily and thumps Buckeyes running back Master Teague III near the line of scrimmage for a 2-yard gain and run stuff short of the first-down marker.

Ohio State is going for it on fourth-and-1, and Barmore lines up over center, sends his forearm into the neck of Ohio State center Josh Myers — a 2021 second-round pick — at the snap, pushes him nearly two yards into the backfield and meets Teague for a loss of downs and 2 yards. The threat has been neutralized, and Alabama goes on to win 52-24.

But Barmore, who was drafted by the New England Patriots with the 38th overall pick in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and his unblockability only lasts for spurts. If he makes one big play, suddenly, he’s “on fire” like in the old “NBA Jam” Arcade game, dunking on opponents and finding himself in the backfield again and again. Watch Barmore in this three-play stretch against Texas A&M:

He brings pressure on three straight plays, tossing a defender to the ground and working through another on second down.

When Barmore is “off,” he’s still a good player. He can get skinny and pressure the quarterback on double teams, hold his point of attack and two gap in the run game, and he’s a natural mover on stunts and games. But when Barmore flips the switch, suddenly it’s like he’s in star mode in “Super Mario Bros.,” obliterating anything in his path. And he showed up in big games. He registered 12 pressures and eight stops in the college football playoff against Notre Dame and Ohio State.

Barmore was widely projected as a first-round pick, but it’s not overly surprising he fell to the second round. Barmore was clearly the best defensive tackle in the 2021 class, but teams still refused to reach for the top player at a non-premium position because of his relative inconsistency.

At the same time, Barmore was a great value for New England six picks into the second round, and he has some really impressive potential despite the fact that, as nearly every single one of his scouting reports indicated, he has a tendency to run hot and cold in games and week-to-week.

Barmore finished his junior season with eight sacks, four QB hits and 27 hurries despite playing about half of Alabama’s defensive snaps, per PFF. He also had four batted passes and 20 run stops. Among drafted defensive tackles, Barmore finished second in PFF’s pass-rush win rate metric, third in pressure percentage, second in pass-rush productivity and third in run stops. PFF gave him a 91.5 pass-rush grade and 71.7 run-stop grade in 2020.

He’s not a finished product, and he had some rough spots in games. He had a false start and found himself on the ground early against Georgia, but then made up for it with a crazy strip sack and batted pass.

He also can get pushed around at times by double teams and overruns the quarterback on passing downs. All of the issues are fixable, however. And if they’re fixed, he could be a Pro Bowler. That’s how he looked late in the 2020 season.

Barmore is a really intriguing fit in New England because of his potential as a three-down defensive tackle. That doesn’t mean he can play 100 percent of defensive snaps, but he’s the first defensive tackle acquired by the Patriots with the potential to consistently play more than 60 or 70 percent of snaps since Vince Wilfork was on the roster. Since 2014, when Wilfork played 73.6 percent of defensive snaps, Alan Branch has led Patriots defensive tackles in defensive snap percentage in one season with 60 percent in 2016.

As a junior in 2020, Barmore played as a three-technique defensive tackle on 62.3 percent of his snaps, at nose tackle for 17.2 percent of snaps, at five-technique defensive end on 17.2 percent of his snaps and on the edge on 3.1 percent of snaps before declaring early for the draft. At 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, Barmore has the ability to play any of those positions in the NFL too. Similar to Alabama, the Patriots like to run 4-3 and 3-4 looks. So, Barmore will play all over the line of scrimmage.

His athleticism (4.98-second 40-yard dash) is most intriguing on third down as a pass rusher. And that’s probably where it makes the most sense to stick Barmore as a rookie, especially because the Patriots have a void to fill at that position after Adam Butler left for the Miami Dolphins in free agency.

Barmore could make an immediate impact in the middle of the Patriots’ pass rush on third down, surrounded by players like Dont’a Hightower, Matt Judos, Chase Winovich and Josh Uche. Butler was really good at taking up space, letting the players around him do damage and occasionally get through the line for his own pressures. Barmore has the upside to be even better and cause more havoc by himself.

But Barmore must play under control to man that role on the Patriots. Playing on third down is about more than pinning one’s ears back and trying to bring down the quarterback. Of course, the same holds true at Alabama. And Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban trusted Barmore to be on the field on third down.

If Barmore can’t be trusted to do his job and make life as easy as possible on his fellow pass rushers, then he’ll probably be used as a rotational early-down run defender. He has plenty of potential in that role, as well, but he’s less of a finished product on early downs.

Barmore will compete for playing time with roster locks Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux and Deatrich Wise. Henry Anderson, Byron Cowart, Montravius Adams, Carl Davis, Akeem Spence, Tashawn Bower, Nick Thurman and Bill Murray could be in the mix, as well.

The Patriots hit on first-round defensive tackles Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork in the early 2000s. They haven’t had as much success on first- and second-day defensive tackles in recent years, missing on Ron Brace (second round, 2009), Dominique Easley (first round, 2014) and Vincent Valentine (third round, 2016). Malcom Brown was a solid contributor who won two Super Bowls with the Patriots after being taken in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. His fifth-year option wasn’t picked up, however, and he didn’t get a second contract with the Patriots.

The Patriots have to hope Barmore was a vintage Belichick pick. He certainly has the potential. It’s all about Barmore and the Patriots putting it all together.

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