I admit that I set out to find some analysis that backed up my preconceived notions of Carolina Panthers rookie defensive end Brian Burns. I’m of the opinion that quick, light defensive ends are only third down specialists that are too much of a risk to ever play all three downs. After all, Burns played at around 235 pounds last season which is linebacker weight in the NFL. I’m happy to report that I found very little analysis that was as dire as my preconceived notions. In fact even those that acknowledged his weight is a concern felt that it was something that would be alleviated after a short time in the NFL.
Athleticism and intangibles
What every pundit agrees on is that Burns is an elite prospect at getting around the edge. It starts with an above average first step followed by the flexibility to bend around the edge.
Runs the arc like a gazelle. Probably the best get-off of anyone in this year’s draft class and possesses the burst and bendy athleticism to run around tackles without them getting a hand on Burns. Long strider who can maintain his width before exploding and flattening fast to the quarterback. Junk-ball pitcher, too – can change up speeds on his rush, use a devastating hesitation rush and countering inside. Sets up tackles well and never gives them a pattern to follow. Uses club, rip and swim moves effectively and probably has the best spin move (his trademark pass-rush technique) in this or any draft class.
In the tape I have watched his spin move is very refined, to the point he loses very little speed on the spin.
Pass rushing skill
Talk about technical know-how when it comes to rushing the passer, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a rookie provide this kind of detail on how to execute a spin move:
“I line up about 2-3 yards outside the tackle, and my aiming point is like three yards behind him. I cock it a little bit so I’m not going vertically down the field, I’m coming more at an angle toward him. Coming off the ball, of course you have to have a good get-off, I give him a little stutter, jab outside, I use my inside arm to chop both of his hands, and once you get the inside hand, it’s really over because he can’t really recover from that.
“Once you chop both his arms with your inside hand, you spin around and you use your opposite hand to really clear yourself. You want to hit an area somewhere around the liver, his midsection of his back. You don’t want to go too high or too low but you definitely want to get in that area where you can throw yourself through.”
Opposing offensive tackles might want to what out for that Burns liver chop!
So as good as Burns is getting around the edge he has actually had more production rushing inside with the spin move, a perfect counter to the edge rush.
If the Panthers play Burns in a 3-4 alignment he certainly will be expected to drop into coverage times. He appears to have the athleticism and smarts to play in coverage we really have little tape to draw from.
Run stopping skills
The consensus seems to be that Burns is very good in pursuit from the backside but can be washed up when directly run at. Burns has the quickness to counter with a quick move to set the edge provided he recognizes the play. He has shown some ability to do that. For this reason Burns will most likely rotate in a third downs as a rookie.
I think this evaluation from NFL Draft Network is my favorite. While it addresses my concern regarding Burns weight it also doesn’t think it rises to the level of the proverbial ‘red flag’.
Best trait - Pass rush
Worst trait - Mass
Red flags - None
Burns is a refined pass rusher that dominated power five competition throughout his college career. While it’s easy to love his high-variance, technically refined and gifted pass rushing skill set, Burns is a more versatile defender than he is often credited for. He can win from a three-point or stand-up position with playmaking ability against the run, in coverage and attacking the quarterback. His blend of length, flexibility, technical refinement, football IQ and burst serve as a strong foundation for him to become a dynamic playmaking defender in the NFL.
So add another ‘best trait’ to Burns resume…football IQ. You have to think fast to be fast in the NFL.
What we can expect as a rookie
Again from Sports Illustrated, Burns’ entry into the NFL could be very similar to his entry into the college ranks. He starts as a third down specialist until he can optimize his weight and strength. I will point out that in spite of being a back-up pass rushing specialist as a freshman at FSU he led all freshman in the nation in sacks with 9.5. I’d take that from him in 2019.
Best-suited destination: There absolutely is a home in the NFL for Burns’ electric rush potential, and like his time at FSU he could grow from a Year 1 pass-rush specialist role to more of a full-time assignment in Year 2 in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 front. He’ll need time to develop in an NFL weight program and add good bulk, but the promising thing is how well he moved with the larger frame at the combine.
They said it, not me!
They said it: “Watching him in those drills, I thought … am I watching Von Miller here? That’s a bit rich for me, but I am telling you [that] you just don’t see those guys move like that, that gracefully, very often. It was beautiful.”
— AFC college scouting director
Player comp: I have seen a few Leonard Floyd comps, and that’s pretty good. But I see him as more of a Danielle Hunter clone – and he’s ahead of where Hunter was coming out – from a youth/playing style perspective. Hunter, by the way, has 40 sacks in four seasons and is one of the best speed rushers in the game.
Key stat: Burns’ 24 college sacks rank fifth in FSU history behind Reinard Wilson, Peter Boulware, DeMarcus Walker and Ron Simmons. Burns and Boulware are the only two on the list who played three college seasons; the other three played four years.
I also have heard the Floyd comparisons and therefore was not impressed. Now when you instead say Danielle Hunter that is a different story. That would be sweet. So color me as having changed my perception changed on Brian Burns rookie prospects if not maybe right out of the gate but certainly once the second half of the season rolls around.
Ron Rivera tracks impact players as part of his player analysis throughout a season. I think he will be pointing to Brian Burns a good amount as a rookie.