Deontay Burnett: A Lesson In Trusting the Tape

Photo: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

A lot went wrong for Deontay Burnett between his last collegiate game and the 2018 NFL Draft, so much so that he fell all the way into undrafted free agency. Luckily for Burnett, the Titans made him a priority undrafted free agent and gave him ample opportunity to make the 53-man roster. Looking back, there was no reason why Burnett should have fallen out of the draft, and the Titans have found a player that they should roster.

Deontay Burnett is currently the youngest player on the Titans 90-man roster at just 20 years old, and he won’t turn 21 until October. Last year at USC, Burnett put up 86 receptions, 1,114 yards, and 9 touchdowns while catching passes from Sam Darnold. He ended his last two collegiate seasons by playing in the Rose Bowl against Penn State, and the Cotton Bowl against Ohio State. In those two games combined, Burnett accumulated 25 receptions for 303 yards, and 3 touchdowns.

So how did a young, productive receiver from a powerhouse football school slip into undrafted status?

Burnett tested poorly, very poorly.

Burnett battled minor injuries throughout the season that made him questionable a number of times, then fought through a torn hamstring during the draft cycle that relegated him to only working out at USC’s pro day. He weighed in at just 186 pounds (16th percentile), which would’ve been looked past had he done well in agility drills, but that was where he faulted. Burnett posted just a 4.70s 40 yard dash (4th percentile), and 30.5 inch vertical jump (5th percentile).

Suddenly, the perception of Burnett was that of a short (5’11 ⅝), light, slow, and injury prone slot receiver. NFL teams said pass.

As far as my personal evaluation of Burnett, I cooled on him after the poor testing numbers. Part of my grading scale is a combination of physical profile and athleticism, and Burnett scored so poorly that it bumped my perception of him from a potential Mid-Day 2 pick to a 5th round grade.

However, Burnett was one of those player’s whose game I was drawn to. I felt as though his tape trumped his poor testing numbers a bit, and I settled on a 4th round grade and 15th overall wide receiver. Burnett just barely missed my Top 100 overall players.

Despite the testing numbers, I was still shocked when Burnett went undrafted. There was no way that his film justified 256 players and 32 wide receivers being taken over him.

Here’s the thing: Burnett went out in the preseason and picked up right where he left off at USC.

Looking at his four preseason games, Burnett caught all 11 of his targets for 93 total yards. Talk about making the most of your opportunities.

It is abundantly clear that the traits he showed on his college film; body control, soft hands, the ability to read and manipulate defenses and find space as an underneath and intermediate threat, will quickly translate to the NFL.

Pro day numbers don’t matter once you step on to a professional football field, and now the perception of Burnett is back to the young (yet mature), productive receiver with potential.

The Titans, like the rest of the NFL, are faced with the difficult task of trimming their roster from 90 players down to just 53. If they choose to cut Burnett and hope that he clears waivers so they can add him to their practice squad, they risk allowing a different team to claim him.

After the training camp and preseason that Burnett put together, the Titans will almost assuredly lose him if they attempt this move. Burnett, the undrafted rookie, should without question be kept on the Titans 53-man roster.

Written By:

Brad Kelly

NFL Draft Analyst

NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Wide Receivers Coach at Salve Regina University. Salve Regina Football ‘15.