Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has so many good storylines from a player perspective. The obvious one is Tom Brady elevating himself from the 199th overall pick to arguably the most accomplished player of all time, earning a Super Bowl berth for the 10th time in 20 tries. A close second might be Patrick Mahomes having a losing record in college, only to be seemingly the heir apparent to Brady at the top spot.
However, there’s another great story along the Buccaneers’ front seven. Shaquil Barrett has always been an afterthought. Undrafted coming out of Colorado State in 2014, Barrett spent a year on the Denver Broncos’ practice squad before emerging in 2015, outplaying first-round pick Shane Ray to the tune of 29 pressures on 252 pass-rushing snaps. He was involved in six sacks in 2015, helping propel Denver to a Super Bowl title (Barrett had a pressure in his last appearance in the big game, too).
Barrett amassed 75 pressures over the next three years, never seeing more than 324 pass-rushing snaps in any of those seasons. Allowed to leave via free agency in 2019, he signed one of the best deals of the offseason with Tampa Bay. His one-year, $4 million dollar deal was paid off in the first few games of a season in which he racked up 82 pressures, a league-leading 19.5-sacks and 38 stops while missing just six tackles.
Shaq Barrett, as an overlooked backup behind two less good players the Broncos drafted in the first round, accumulated the 22nd-most WAR among edges since 2015.
17th-best grade in '15
ninth-best grade in '16
19th-best grade in '17
24th-best grade in '18 ( < 300 snaps)
— Eric Eager ???????? (@PFF_Eric) September 13, 2019
After that campaign, one in which Tampa Bay moved from 29th in yards per play allowed to sixth, the Bucs applied the franchise tag to Barrett, agreeing to pay him $15.8 million on a one-year deal. From Tampa Bay's perspective, this move made a decent amount of sense, with them choosing to sign Brady and also retain Barrett’s running mate, Jason Pierre-Paul, at a rate of $27 million over two years.
This is where the interesting discourse starts, though. Many people believe Barrett’s play has fallen off. After all, he went from 19.5 sacks during the 2019 regular season to just 8.0 in 2020. However, we know better than this — pressures predict sacks better than sacks predict sacks, and Barrett’s pressure numbers in 2020 have been on par with his 2019 totals, leading all edge players in quarterback pressures during the regular season (77).
2019: 82 pressures in 580 pass-rushing snaps (14.1%)
2020: 88 pressures in 607 pass-rushing snaps (14.5%, incl. playoffs)
2019: involved in 20 sacks
2020: involved in 11 sacks#SBLV
— Eric Eager ???????? (@PFF_Eric) January 30, 2021
In fact, while immediate regression is never (ever) guaranteed, Barrett has gotten more “lucky” in the playoffs at turning pressures into sacks, even as his pressure rate has fallen:
Shaquil Barrett Pressure Rate and Sack Rate
|Timeframe||Pressure Rate||Sack Rate|
|2020 Weeks 1-17||15.7%||10.4%|
*Pressure Rate = Percentage of pass-rushing snaps that result in a pressure
*Sack Rate = Percentage of pressures that result in a sack
His three sacks in the NFC Championship game were instrumental in Tampa holding off the Green Bay Packers for their first Super Bowl appearance since 2002, with flashbacks to the great Simeon Rice and his four playoff sacks that year.
While the Super Bowl is on the top of everyone’s mind in Tampa, one of the more important stories for the franchise in the aftermath will be what to do with Barrett after two stellar seasons in pewter. Here are some of the options they could explore.