If you've been following along with our Stock Report series, you may have noticed a distinct trend with one offensive player. The series is meant to show players who looked better or worse, or whose chances improved or diminished, from practice to practice so is it really our opinion that fullback Michael Burton looked better each day of training camp? Yes, without any hesitation whatsoever, this is a player who not only looked better each day, but could be the best at his position by the beginning of the 2016 season.
On the first day of training camp opened to the general public, Burton was the only standout blocker. Some, such as Cole Wick and Matthew Mulligan, looked alright but Michael Burton was on a whole different level. The violence with which he tossed aside linebackers and other running backs blocking him drew positive reactions from the crowd and it was obvious this guy enjoyed hitting other people. If he enjoyed hitting his fellow Lions that much, I don't envy the opposing linebackers that will be tasked with taking him on.
The offense under Jim Bob Cooter is a new one and it clearly has a spot for someone like Michael Burton. Star tight end Eric Ebron hasn't even been included in blocking drills, meaning any role as a lead blocker will fall to Burton or the second tight end. I have concerns that free agent acquisition Stevan Ridley can be an efficient inside runner due to his Reggie Bush-like hesitation, but throwing Burton in front of him may buy him enough time to get his considerable size moving and force him into that role. The former Rutgers FB is also agile and quick enough to get out in front of no-longer-a-rookie Ameer Abdullah, whether on the edge or otherwise, and punish any defender that gets in his path. Add in his soft hands and solid route running, and he can be effective as a receiving outlet or blocker on those designed plays to Theo Riddick.
This is an important season to have not only a reliable lead blocker, but a great one. The offensive line struggled in 2015 and thus far hasn't looked much better so far in camp. If the line continues their bottom-level run blocking, someone is going to have to pick up that slack and make running a worthwhile option. If the offensive line is seriously improved, and concerns in training camp prove unfounded, Michael Burton may be the most important piece of this rushing attack, potentially launching them from worst in the league to somewhere in the top half. He's just that good.