Connor Barwin is from Hazel Park, Michigan. He loved the Lions and particularly Barry Sanders growing up. Barwin started his college career as a tight end but was moved to defensive end for his senior season. He responded by recording 53 tackles and 12 sacks. He also recorded 20 quarterback pressures, eight pass deflections, three fumble recoveries, and three blocked kicks. The Cincinnati Bearcats backup tight end catapulted himself into the second round of the 2009 draft. Barwin fits as a stop gap among the free agent pass rushers.
Barwin had an up and down four seasons with the Texans as he switched back and forth between defensive end and linebacker positions. He was used as a 4-3 defensive end, a 3-4 outside linebacker, and in times of injury an inside linebacker. Barwin has his best season with the Texans in 2011, when he played exclusively outside linebacker in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. He joined Chip Kelly’s Eagles team in Philadelphia and was one of the few players to thrive in that environment. Barwin had 14.5 sacks in 2014. When Jim Schwartz became the Eagles defensive coordinator and switched their defensive scheme to a 4-3, Barwin’s sack production dropped to five. In 2017 Barwin and Phillips reunited with the Los Angeles Rams. Barwin was not used strictly as a pass rusher. He was dropping into coverage as often as not.
How Barwin Wins
Connor Barwin is still a phenomenal athlete for a man of his size even at age 31. That is his main weapon as a football player. He has the speed to beat slower tackles to the edge and the agility to get around traffic on stunts. Barwin often pressures the quarterback when he has coverage responsibility for a running back that stays in to block. He relies on the fact that the offense does not know what he is going to do.
Barwin does not quit on plays, often pursuing running plays to the opposite sideline or receivers downfield. He can often be found forcing a quarterback that has escaped the primary pass rush to throw the ball away. There are few quarterbacks able to match his speed and athleticism.
How Barwin Loses
Barwin does not have the infinite supply of pass rush moves that one might expect from a nine-year veteran. His natural athleticism has allowed him to get by without developing a more nuanced pass rush. He does not do particularly well getting off blocks once a tackle latches on. He has the length to keep blockers at bay, but if they inside his reach, he lacks the strength to disengage.
This cagey veteran is a versatile solution to a lot of problems that a defense might face. If the Lions are looking for a short-term solution to the pass rush problem, he is an option that could buy a year for a draft pick to develop. Signing Barwin is essentially tantamount to punting the pass rush problem a year or two down the road. That Barwin qualifies as one of the top free agent pass rushers with only two double-digit sack seasons says a lot about this free agent crop. There are only four players on the list and the rest are much better players.