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As the Panthers rebuild their defense, don’t overlook the impact of an unleashed Brian Burns

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As a rookie last year Burns terrorized quarterbacks despite playing just 43 percent of the Panthers defensive snaps. Get ready for a monster sophomore season.

NFL: OCT 27 Panthers at 49ers Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After the Carolina Panthers used all seven of their 2020 draft picks on defensive players there has been a lot of understandable enthusiasm among Panthers fans about the much needed defensive overhaul. It’s feasible the Panthers could end up giving significant playing time to each of their first four picks - Derrick Brown, Yetur Gross-Matos, Jeremy Chinn, and Troy Pride Jr. - from Week 1.

While I’m excited to see what the new guys can do, I’m equally excited to witness the havoc an unleashed Brian Burns can wreak in his second NFL season. As a rookie in 2019 under the Ron Rivera regime Burns was both highly productive and highly restrained. The former No. 16 pick from Florida State only played 478 snaps in 16 games last season (just 43 percent of the team’s total) but still ranked third among rookies in sacks:

Most rookie sacks, 2019

Player Team Def Snaps Sacks QB Hits
Player Team Def Snaps Sacks QB Hits
Maxx Crosby OAK 750 10.0 14
Nick Bosa SFO 777 9.0 25
Brian Burns CAR 478 7.5 16
Montez Sweat WAS 724 7.0 13
Ed Oliver BUF 556 5.0 8

Rookie sack leader Maxx Crosby played 272 more snaps than Burns, a 57 percent advantage, yet Burns only trailed Crosby by 2.5 sacks and actually produced two more quarterback hits, per Football Reference. Runner up Nick Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick in 2019, played 299 more snaps than Burns, a 63 percent advantage, and ended the season with just 1.5 more sacks than the Panthers rookie. When looking at productivity on a per-snap basis I think it’s fair to say Brian Burns would’ve led all rookies in sacks if he had played 700-plus snaps like his peers did.

While Burns was somewhat slowed by a wrist injury in Week 4 which required a minor surgery and wearing a cast, his limited playing time was a source of constant frustration last year. Particularly galling was 32-year-old Bruce Irvin playing 608 snaps in 13 games while on a one-year contract. Why so much playing time was given to Irvin over Burns on a Panthers team that clearly wasn’t competing for a Super Bowl remains one of the riddles of Ron Rivera.

Under new head coach Matt Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow, Brian Burns should get as many snaps in 2020 as he can handle. Neither Bruce Irvin nor Mario Addison will return this year. Additionally, with the combination of a healthy Kawann Short and this year’s No. 7 pick Derrick Brown eating up blockers, Burns could get plenty of chances to feast on quarterbacks.

As the Panthers look to rebuild their defense in 2020, getting another 300-plus snaps from Brian Burns will be a significant addition. He could have a monster year based on what he did last season. Count me among those who are giddy with anticipation when envisioning what an unrestrained Brian Burns can do in a breakout sophomore season.