Futures

Analyzing the tape of college football's best players... and the NFL's future stars.

Futures: Brian Burns

by Derrik Klassen

Brian Burns' collegiate career was an unfortunate casualty of Florida State's recent instability. The collapse of Jimbo Fisher's reign in 2017 led to an unproductive 4.5-sack season for Burns on the way to a seven-win campaign for the team. Willie Taggart was hired away from Oregon to replace Fisher and reignite the spark in Tallahassee, but Taggart's first season with the Seminoles in 2018 was a disaster. Though Burns himself found his footing again with 10.0 sacks, Florida State ended the season with a pitiful 5-7 record. The program's demise made it difficult for Burns to shine the way a player of his caliber deserves to.

Nevertheless, Burns got his opportunity to show off at the NFL combine. Burns kicked off the event by measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 249 pounds. With many speculating Burns could weigh in around 235 pounds, nearly hitting the 250 mark is encouraging, even if Burns probably did not play at that weight.

Burns then went on to tear up the athletic testing. His 4.53-second 40-yard dash and 129-inch broad jump both placed in the 97th percentile all-time among edge players. Additionally, Burns shined with a 36-inch vertical jump (82nd percentile) and a 7.01-second 3-cone drill (81st percentile). Though Burns did have the advantage of doing these drills at a lighter weight than most other edge players, he clearly showed off above-average overall athleticism with elite upfield burst.

The straight-line speed and outward burst Burns displayed in the 40-yard dash and broad jump were no surprise based on his film. Most pass-rushers have a calling card of some sort, and Burns' is certainly his initial explosion off the snap. The amount of ground Burns can cover within his first two steps is overwhelming.

Here is an example of Burns (arrow) eating up a ton of space in just two steps. With his first step, Burns is already fully out of his stance and starting to cross the line of scrimmage. Burns' second step puts him a yard and a half past the line of scrimmage with an outside angle to get around the offensive tackle.

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Unfortunately, Notre Dame had called for a one-step drop, which would explain the offensive tackles' short sets. Burns was not able to convert his explosive first step into anything on this play. Still, that Burns could even threaten to pressure on a play like this is a testament to his get-off.

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Here is another example of Burns flying off the line of scrimmage at the top of the screen. Burns is again stymied by offensive design -- this time by a running back chipping him outside -- but his initial burst is on full display. The amount of ground Burns covers with his first couple of steps over his edge counterpart Joshua Kaindoh (13) is stunning.

Burns' burst off the snap consistently puts him in position to win around the edge. When Burns earns those opportunities to get around the arc, he shows the necessary bend to finish plays and get to the quarterback. Burns is not an elite bender such as Von Miller, but he is more than capable of turning the corner on offensive tackles. Look at the following play versus Miami as an example.

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By his third step, Burns has to decide whether he can win outside or if he needs to redirect inside. Burns opts for the textbook outside approach in this scenario and commits to the tackle's outside shoulder. As the tackle reaches to get a hold of Burns, Burns slaps the tackle's hands down and bends down to turn the corner. Burns is able to get low enough to turn at a sharp 90-degree angle and blow right past the offensive tackle, something many pass-rushers struggle to pull off. Once around the blocker, Burns works back inside to the quarterback and slaps the ball out of his hand, resulting in a strip-sack recovered by Florida State.

Burns is not a one-trick pony pass-rusher, though. There is more to Burns' arsenal than using sheer speed to get around opposing tackles. Burns can use that same speed to bait offensive tackles into setting too far outside, then work back inside for a more direct path to the quarterback. Burns' inside side-step and swim move, in particular, are punishing.

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This handful of plays highlights how easy it is for Burns to side-step inside to create a path to the quarterback. In all three examples, Burns coaxes the offensive tackle into committing his frame outside, then stamps his outside foot in the ground and shoots inside the blocker. Burns uses a hand swipe in unison with his inside step so as to not give the offensive tackle a clean chance to push him off his path. Between Burns' nimble feet and appropriate hand-fighting, it is a tall order for opposing tackles to protect against this move.

Burns can also spice up his inside approach with a DeMarcus Ware impression. Throughout Ware's career in Dallas and Denver, the future Hall of Famer became known for his spin move. Both inside and outside, Ware could set up offensive tackles one way and spin them out of their shoes going the other way. Burns is not quite that deadly with it, but the spin move is certainly a viable part of his skill set.

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The key for Burns here is timing and balance through contact. Burns starts off the play by getting upfield quickly, as he often does, and getting the offensive tackle to turn his hips outside too early. As soon as the offensive tackle lunges, Burns slaps the tackle's hands and spins inside while sticking tight to the tackle's body. Burns is then able to get the angle inside and push through the offensive tackle, earning him a free run at the quarterback for a sack. That blend of timing, footwork, hand-fighting, and burst through contact is special stuff.

Burns is as polished a pass-rusher as you can ask of a draft prospect. Not only does Burns have a clear calling card in his speed and burst, but he can build off of that primary strength with countermoves. That Burns can reliably win in a handful of ways, both with nuance and with raw talent, suggests he will be an effective pass-rusher from the get-go.

The issue with Burns is run defense. Burns' 249-pound combine weight was almost certainly not his playing weight, and that shows itself on the film all too often. Burns struggles to hold his own on the edge in run defense. When asked to set the edge, Burns tends to get turned outside and bullied off the point of attack. Burns' performance versus North Carolina State best encapsulates this concern.

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North Carolina State's left tackle put on his best bouncer impression to kick Burns out of the club in both clips. Burns makes the correct initial step to get in position on both plays, but is repositioned further outside by the left tackle with little resistance. In turn, the running back slices inside of where Burns should be defending and turns up the field for a huge gain. Burns simply lacks the strength to play in close quarters with tougher offensive linemen like this.

Florida State's coaching staff tried to work around Burns' poor run defense as much as possible. For one, Burns almost exclusively played on the wide side of the field when his hand was in the dirt. If you go back to rewatch all nine of the clips above, Burns is aligned to the wider portion of the field, which should theoretically give him more space to operate in both phases of the game.

Furthermore, Burns was often moved to an off-ball position any time Florida State was backed up inside the 5-yard line. The idea was that if Burns could not be trusted to defend his gap when things got congested, he may as well be used as a traditional linebacker and "chase" player where his athleticism could thrive. In some instances, the move paid off and Burns made a play of which he may not have otherwise been capable.

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Take this pressure versus the Florida Gators, for example. Burns is in a stand-up position over the right tackle, positioned between his own defensive end and defensive tackle. Burns shuffles down at the snap of the ball to defend the run, but the Gators fake the hand-off and instead try to throw a screen to the opposite side of the field. With the screen concept snuffed out by the rest of Florida State's defense, the quarterback bails to his right to salvage the play. Burns, already free because he was aligned off the ball, chases down the quarterback in space and forces him to throw the ball away.

It hurts Burns' value that he can not be a reliable run defender, especially in the red zone, but at least he has some way to make up the lost value. Burns' speed and comfort in space could make him a viable off-ball linebacker or stand-up 3-4 outside linebacker in specific scenarios.

That being said, Burns is not being drafted for his run defense or lack thereof. Burns is an excellent pass-rusher who can win in a number of ways and has an athletic profile that suggests his potential floor as a player is high. Pass-rushers with Burns' 40-yard dash, jumps, and 3-cone marks do not fail very often.

Burns can step in and contribute as a pass-rusher right away. He is developmentally ahead of the curve in terms of his pass-rush approach and will have no issue adjusting to the speed of the NFL. Burns will be a quality No. 2 pass-rusher as a rookie before blossoming into a force off the edge over the following years.

Comments

1 comment, Last at 14 Mar 2019, 3:49pm

1 Re: Futures: Brian Burns

by jw124164 // Mar 14, 2019 - 3:49pm

Vic Beasley 2.0 ?

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