After the Seahawks traded up with the Vikings during the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the team selected Utah’s Cody Barton with the No. 88 overall selection.
While Barton was forced to wait nearly all season for an opportunity to play on defense, the 23-year old exceeded expectations once he started earning consistent playing time over the final few weeks of the regular season into the postseason as a replacement for veteran Mychal Kendricks.
Let’s revisit some of the good and the bad from Barton’s rookie campaign, along with a prediction of how next season may play out for him as he enters his sophomore season.
What Went Right
Despite being limited to a special teams role through the first 12 games of his rookie season, Barton was a key member of that unit, earning more snaps (317) than any other Seahawk in 2019.
Once Kendricks suffered a hamstring injury in Week 13, Barton was able to fill in as the starting strongside linebacker over the next two games. While lined up primarily at the middle linebacker position over his four collegiate seasons, the former Utah standout was able to make a smooth transition over to the SAM spot.
In total, the 6-foot-2 linebacker produced 14 total tackles, four solo tackles, one pass deflection, and one quarterback hit during Weeks 14-15. Following these solid starts, the promising rookie was awarded additional playing time as a backup over the final two games of the regular season, earning 19 defensive snaps and recording two total tackles.
Along with Barton’s tackling metrics, he was also very effective as a pass rusher this past season. Making the most of his limited opportunities, the versatile linebacker created three quarterback hurries and three pressures while producing a 37.5 percent pressure rate when sent on the blitz.
If the former Ute qualified, his pressure rate would’ve ranked third-highest among all linebackers in the league, according to Sports-Info-Solutions.com. As a result, the youngster could be poised to receive even more pass rushing attempts next season as a situational player.
With Kendricks tearing his ACL during Seattle’s Week 17 NFC West title game against San Francisco, Barton was given an opportunity to start in each of the team’s playoff contests in January. Luckily, the Seahawks watched No. 57 take his game to the next level while on the road against the Eagles and Packers.
Building off his encouraging performance during the regular season, Barton generated eight total tackles, four solo tackles, one tackle for loss, two pass deflections, and sacked veteran quarterback Josh McCown in a winning effort during a Wild Card victory over Philadelphia.
What Went Wrong
Even though Barton started in four games, including the playoffs, during the 2019 campaign, he didn’t see much of the field other than during special teams situations from Weeks 1-12.
During that timeframe, the Utah native received one defensive snap or fewer in 11 of Seattle’s first 12 games this past season. In addition, he didn’t earn more than five snaps on defense until the team’s Week 13 matchup against Minnesota.
While Barton made a ton of progress once he finally started earning regular playing time on defense, he struggled setting the edge as a run defender while playing the SAM linebacker role. With that said, the young linebacker may have been able to correct these issues if he was given more opportunities early in the season.
Statistically, Barton has plenty of room to grow in coverage as well. He was targeted nine different times and allowed seven catches for 85 yards (79 yards after the catch), a 77.7 percent completion percentage, and a 106.0 passer rating.
Despite committing just one penalty in 2019, the speedy linebacker’s infraction during his first meaningful NFL contest helped Cincinnati take an early 3-0 lead in Week 1. With Seattle winning by just one point, that early score could’ve prevented the team from starting the season off with a victory.
After the Seahawks’ defense forced an incomplete pass on third and short, the Bengals were attempting to punt the ball when Barton collided with punter Kevin Huber and was flagged for running into the kicker. As a result of his five-yard penalty, Cincinnati was provided with a first down and was ultimately gifted with an opportunity to kick a 39-yard field goal 10 plays later.
Despite Barton’s promising performance during his rookie campaign, he doesn’t exactly have a clear, defined role on Seattle’s defense heading into the 2020 season.
With Seattle drafting Jordyn Brooks in the first round and bringing back Bruce Irvin for a second tenure, Barton will face a tough task trying to earn snaps on defense when training camp arrives next month. In addition, the Seahawks are also planning to give third-year pro Shaquem Griffin an opportunity to battle for a reserve role as well.
In comparison to Barton’s rookie season, there have been just five other linebackers who started in exactly two games and produced at least 23 total tackles, nine solo tackles, one pass deflection, and one quarterback hit during their first season in the league.
Among the names listed above, Larry English and Neville Hewitt were the only players who recorded at least 15 total tackles, 10 solo tackles, and one quarterback hit during their second seasons in the league. Additionally, they were the only linebackers who started in a game during their sophomore campaigns.
While such a small sample size doesn't mean much, the additions Seattle has made through the draft and free agency may limit Barton's opportunities to impress on defense this season. As things stand currently, he will likely have to cut his teeth again as a core special teams player.
However, with both K.J. Wright and Irvin headed for unrestricted free agency next spring, Barton could re-emerge as a starter in 2021 if he continues to develop. Working towards that goal, the talented linebacker will need to start his sophomore season off with an impressive showing in training camp and the preseason.