Brian Burns is a first-round talent.
Burns just declared for the 2019 NFL Draft in a press conference at Florida State, eschewing his senior season with the floundering Seminoles. The bendy junior ends the season with 10 sacks in 12 games, all of which came against ACC competition, as well as 15.5 tackles for loss. Burns’ 10 sacks on the season is good enough for second in the ACC and ninth in the country, though Burns did limp to the finish a bit, with only one sack across his final five contests.
Regardless, teams won’t much question Burns’ production — rather, it’s Burns’ measurables that currently represent his biggest obstacle when jumping to NFL play.
Burns was listed in the beginning of the season around 231 pounds. We’ve been told that Burns recently weighed in at 241 pounds, which is a much more desirable weight. Burns’ game is predicated on first-step explosiveness and flexibility around the edge, and massing up to 240+ shouldn’t necessarily bite into that ability too much, but teams will want to ensure Burns has retained his blue-chip rush traits at the heavier size.
Even at 241, however, Burns is up against an inauspicious history of sub-245 EDGE rushers. According to Pro Football Reference, there are only 12 EDGE rushers since 20o0 who have posted a season of at least six sacks under 245 pounds. Of those 12, only seven posted more than one season within that criteria.
Not the most inspiring of lists, I’m afraid. Even if we widen the pool to all rushers under 250 pounds, we still only get 26 players who have hit at least six sacks in a season; 16 of whom were able to do it in multiple seasons. In that list, we begin to see current rushers like Melvin Ingram, Yannick Ngakoue, and Bruce Irvin — these players best represent the mold that Burns is best hoping to fill at the next level.
They sometimes rush with their hand down; sometimes from a two point stance. Frequently they win from wider alignments, such as the stand-up 9-technique, and were at their most successful when they were supported with a strong pass-rush somewhere else on the line. In other words: when they were putting together these 6+ sack seasons, I’m not sure any of the three were the “primary” pass rusher on their respective defensive lines. (Incidentally, Bruce Irvin’s foil in Seattle was Chris Clemons, who also shows up on this list.)
The subset of sub-245 rushers who find sustainable, impactful success at the NFL level is slim — that’s simply the long and the short of it. That said, as defenses look to become faster in the face of changing NFL offenses, we have seen more and more rushers under 245 pounds drafted in the past few years. According to MockDraftable.com, 26 sub-245 EDGEs have been drafted in the last 20 years, which is as far back as that data goes. Of the 26, 17 have been drafted since 2013. That’s 65% of the pool of players in only six years, or 30% of the years we’ve drawn from — a massive swell.
The list isn’t terribly inspiring, however. Among early rounders are some of the greatest hits: Barkevious Mingo (2013), Randy Gregory (2015), Shane Ray (2015), and Kamalei Correa (2016). Throw Haason Reddick (2017) in there as well if you like, though he’s really more of an off-ball linebacker. Really, if you take a look at the list, there isn’t a single “hit” on it at all. The jury might still be out on Arden Key, Tim Williams, and Marquis Haynes — but nothing in here looks promising.
Again, if we expand the list to sub-250 pound rushers, we start to get some better names — Yannick, Irvin, and Ingram chief among them. But this is assuming that, having added an apparent 10 pounds in the past offseason, Burns can add another 5+ and still win with quickness and fluidity. It would be a disservice to his skill-set to mass him up to the point that he is no longer as effective in his strengths.
I really love Brian Burns’ game — I think he’s a tough, feisty player who can hold his own as a 3-4 OLB against the run. With his keen understanding of how to bend and clear the outside rush track, I see the value that he can add to a pass-rush in a Yannick Ngakoue-type role, and if he can learn some coverage drops, he can be an every-down player as an outside rusher.
We’ll have to wait and see what Burns hits on the ever-venerable Combine scale — maybe he slides in at 246 and this conversation is rendered almost entirely moot. But at his current size, Burns is flying into a fierce headwind of history skeptical of his NFL future.