For Broncos pass rusher Shaquil Barrett, the opportunity to start in an NFL game has been a long time coming. The former Colorado State star and Mountain West defensive player of the year in 2013 was inexplicably undrafted coming out of college, despite unbelievable production his senior year, good size, and athletic measurables that stand up to other guys in his class.
So what gives?
The Broncos came calling after the draft, and Barrett answered. He had a big preseason with the team, but was let go at final cuts and Broncos fans were worried that it might have been the last time we’d see Barrett in orange and blue. Because he had played so well, it seemed like a trip through the waiver wire was going to be an impossible journey back to Denver for Barrett, since some team was certainly going to pick him up.
It didn’t happen, and despite other interest from NFL teams, Barrett re-signed with the Broncos to the practice squad, where he spent most of the year. He eventually wound up on the active roster near the end of the season, but the Broncos were lucky to have kept him around all year.
This pre-season, Barrett looked like a completely new player. As good as he was in his rookie season from the limited action us fans were made privy to, he looked that much better in year two. He looked like he was in phenomenal shape, and from the first pre-season game, Barrett was absolutely on fire after the quarterback.
He was the Broncos’ highest graded player this preseason by a mile, and looked like a man playing among boys. The dominance Barrett showed against college level players was showing up again against young NFL hopefuls, and he left the Broncos no choice but to make him one of their 53 this season, again despite interest from a number of NFL teams.
Not only did Barrett make the opening day roster, the Broncos weren’t going to let him sit around and do nothing. He’s seen significant action late in games in critical situations in a rotation with the top pass rushing duo in the NFL — Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.
Undeterred by his circumstance of playing in a position group with two All-Pros and a 2015 first round pick (Shane Ray), Barrett has found a way to make a significant impact this season in limited snaps. He has a pair of sacks already this season and in the Broncos’ road win against the Oakland Raiders, he had 7 tackles, a sack, tackle for loss, and two forced fumbles.
He has forced three fumbles already this season in five games.
Now, with DeMarcus Ware playing it safe with a back injury, Barrett is in line to start for the Broncos on Sunday. He’ll be playing on the opposite side of the field as Von Miller this season, not for the first time, but for the first time with these circumstances — Barrett is a starter.
And he’s not just a starter because of the injury — he has played like a starter. The Broncos don’t have just 11 ‘starters’ on defense because of who trots out there to open the game. Barrett is as good as most starting edge rushers in the NFL and he’s going to prove that against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
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