After the Carolina Panthers selected edge rusher Brian Burns with the No. 16 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, I reached out to our friends over at Tomahawk Nation for a Q&A session on our newest addition to the roster. One of TN’s contributors — oline0175 — was gracious enough to answer my questions.
1. What are Burns’ strengths and weaknesses, and how do you think he could help the Panthers’ defense in 2019?
The first thing to jump out about Burns is his elite first step. Burns uses a long, quick first-step to get angles on an offensive tackle and set up a rush. Once Burns is able to get an angle, he uses his incredible athleticism to either blow by or spin around a blocker.
However, he’s struggled when his initial explosiveness doesn’t give him an immediate advantage. Once an offensive tackle gets his hands on Burns, he was often neutralized at the collegiate levels. And the ACC is a far cry from the NFL. But Burns is also athletic enough to drop in coverage if asked, so if he can develop some more moves, the upside is there for Burns to be a leading sack-artist for the Panthers, and a limited liability in coverage.
But Burns’ weight will always be an issue at the NFL level, and he will have to work to keep it up. When run at, Burns lacks the bulk to set an edge and is moved by more powerful offensive linemen. Early in Burns’ career, he was known to take plays off but did grow out of that in his last season at Florida State. He had to shake off a culture at FSU that saw several Seminoles checking out; to his credit, Burns responded admirably when addressed by these concerns.
Burns should make a day-one impact for the Panthers’ defense. We would expect him to play during most passing situations, but he could develop into an every-down end for the Panthers as the season goes on. Double-digit sacks in his rookie campaign would be a surprise, but not a shock. Burns will bring a pass rush to a team that finished with just 35 total sacks last season. To that end, the Panthers definitely drafted a high-ceiling player at a position of need.
2. Do you think Burns will fit better as a traditional 4-3 defensive end or as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL? Why?
Burns can play in either defensive setup at the next level. However, he’s at his best when he is getting up the field and rushing the passer, so the 4-3 is preferred. But he will be asked to have more run responsibility in the 4-3 defense, which is a drawback. Committing to Burns means you are going to commit to his skill set, and that means widening him out and letting him get up the field. If Burns is dropping into coverage, he is not using his greatest tool, and that is his elite quickness up the field. Carolina has utilized wide-9 looks in the past and should use them again with Burns.
Seminole Everette Brown, who played with the Panthers, is now on staff with Carolina as a defensive assistant, and in a recent interview with our friends Tom Block and Keith Jones of Front Row ’Noles, he said that Burns should be playing with a hand on the ground.
3. The Panthers drafted Burns at No. 16 overall. Do you think they got a good value there, or did they overdraft him?
This spot seemed like a good get for Burns in the draft. He was ranked in the 20s by most draft experts, but getting an elite pass-rusher in the mid-teens is great value. Pass-rushers are a hot commodity in the NFL, and Burns was a highly coveted prospect.
There may be concern about Burns’ ability to be a three-down player, but the impact he will make as a pass-rusher could quiet those concerns. With the way the board fell, getting Burns at 16 was perfect for the Panthers. Carolina got some help from foolish picks by teams in front of them, and Burns could turn out to be a steal at 16 if he can keep his weight and explosiveness up.
4. Which parts of his game do you think will best translate to the NFL? Which parts will he need to work on the most?
Burns’ first step will play at any level. He’s a player who has the ability to get a first-step advantage on most offensive tackles in the league. Burns is a top-edge prospect because of his first step/athleticism, and those will not be going away anytime soon. His length will also allow him to bat down a lot of balls at the next level.
The reason that Burns was not a top-10 pick is his weight. If Burns were able to play at 270, he would have been a top-5 pick. Burns is going to need to continue to get stronger, gain weight, and show he can hold up against the run. If he cannot do these things, he will struggle to stay on the field.
5. If you could compare Burns to a current NFL player, who would you choose and why would you make that choice?
The player comparison mentioned most is Leonard Floyd of the Chicago Bears. Floyd and Burns share many of the same physical/athletic traits. This does appear to be an accurate player comparison for Burns as he enters the NFL. The two players were highly regarded, athletic pass-rushers coming out of college, as Floyd drew similar concerns about his ability to hold up against the run. Floyd has made an impact during his time in Chicago, though he’s not been the pass-rusher the Bears had hoped for. Time will tell if Burns can be the top-notch pass-rusher that Carolina drafted him to be.
What do you think, Panthers fans? Are you excited about the pick? Why or why not?