During the 2011 NFL season, San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Antwan Barnes came out of nowhere and quickly became the team’s best pass rusher. He made the most of his limited opportunities and racked up 11 sacks as a situational pass rusher.
Despite his success, the Chargers drafted outside linebacker Melvin Ingram in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft and signed outside linebacker Jarret Johnson in free agency. Johnson, who isn’t much of a pass rusher but is great against the run, started opposite veteran Shaun Phillips. Barnes, Ingram and Larry English rotated in as situational players, and the logjam at the position severely dipped into Barnes’ playing time. In 11 games last season, Barnes recorded just nine tackles and three sacks.
Barnes was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury early in December. Despite his absence, the Chargers’ pass rush actually improved late in the year when defensive coordinator John Pagano called more blitzes. If Pagano continues to dial up the heat in 2013, Barnes could see the field more and be considered an elite pass rusher once again.
Barnes may not be anything special stopping the run or in coverage, which hurts his overall value on the team. However, you can never have too many good pass rushers given how much quarterbacks are passing in today’s NFL. With Phillips getting up there in age and Ingram’s disappointing sack total last season, Barnes could be the best pass rusher on San Diego’s roster.
The question is whether Barnes would even want to return to San Diego next season. He wasn’t fully utilized by Pagano and could look for better opportunities with another team when free agency begins. However, if Barnes is willing to return, the Chargers should definitely consider re-signing him if the price is right.