We continue our series of looking into how the Detroit Lions could improve their pass rush by looking at Florida State edge player Brian Burns. I say edge rather than mentioning defensive end or linebacker specifically because Burns can—and does—play both. Unlike most people who can stand or drop to the dirt, Burns is actually strong enough in both ways that there’s no significant drop off from one to the other. This will be of great value to many teams since they can vary their defensive looks and formations or trip up offenses by running a same or similar play out of a different look.
Entering college under 220 and playing near that weight much of his career is going to make Burns an interesting one to follow as the process develops, but for now we have plenty of tape to judge him on.
Brian Burns, DE/OLB, Florida State
Height: 6050 (6 feet, 5 inches) | Weight: 231 pounds
2016 Stats: 14 Solo Tackles, 23 Total, 8.5 Sacks, 1.0 TFL, 1 FF
2017 Stats: 26 Solo Tackles, 48 Total, 4.5 Sacks, 9.0 TFL, 4 PD, 1 FR, 3 FF
2018 Stats: 31 Solo Tackles, 52 Total, 10.0 Sacks, 5.5 TFL, 3 PD, 1 FR, 3 FF
NOTE: Sacks removed from TFL totals
Current Draft Projection: First Round
Some notes from his team profile here.
Ranked as a four or five star recruit from every outlet, Burns was projected to be one of the most disruptive college pass rushers coming out of high school when he was recruited by Florida State. His positive traits were listed as his length and athleticism, also noting that he can play standing up and with his hand in the dirt. The latter is a rare trait for a player coming out of high school as they are often asked to do one or the other rather than both.
Burns has no shortage of explosiveness off the line, with a first step that ranks among the top in this class. The scouts nailed his high school reports, as he wins primarily by using his explosiveness and length to create the space he needs to beat blockers.
Three very important factors are going to aid in his draft profile for teams, the first being his ability to play equally well as a stand up rusher and with one or both hands in the dirt on the edge. Secondly, we’re not talking about a guy who made his living solely as a pass rusher, Burns was able to excel as a run defender as well, rarely overrunning his responsibilities and keeping contain on the edge. Lastly, Burns showed significant improvement in his sophomore season after a very promising freshman campaign. Then he showed even more improvement going into his junior year. Teams love a guy they can coach, and having a guy who can do it all, from any angle, and has shown improvement in each area over the course of time is a big draw.
Playing at around 230 pounds as a linebacker can be difficult and is considered undersized in almost every defensive scheme. Playing at that weight as an edge rusher is almost unheard of, and the draft has been littered with guys who’ve tried. Long and lanky (those are positives), Burns has a lack of bend that really stands out due to his style of play. He’s very explosive, which is good, but when he doesn’t win with that explosiveness he seems to get in his own way to recover. Functional strength tends to be poor and is likely a big part of why his size is going to scare off some teams.
Position Specific Traits
Burns uses superior explosiveness and plus length to create distance between himself and his blockers and to close the distance to the quarterback. His speed appears above average, but he tends to over-rely on his athleticism when rushing outside.
He has a very pretty spin move, and while he doesn’t break it out very often, it’s worth noting that its improvement over three years in college was incredible and is a good sign for how he can develop pass rushing moves in the hands of a talented defensive line coach and coordinator.
Functional strength is an issue as a rusher, but since he relies more on explosiveness and length, it doesn’t show up as much. He doesn’t have a wide array of pass rushing moves, but has shown development in that area throughout his career.
This is the area where Burns’ functional strength can be a problem. If a blocker is able to counter his length and get ahold of him, Burns is pretty much done. He lacks the strength and ability to redirect blockers to where he wants them to be to open up holes for his teammates and occasionally gets so focused on the man blocking him he loses sight of the ball carrier.
His speed is above average but not great and can occasionally cause problems in pursuit. His natural explosiveness means he can close gaps with ease, provided he’s not too tied up with blockers. This is another area he improved up on as his career progressed, becoming more disciplined in where he is supposed to be and, often more important for an edge rusher, where he is not supposed to be. He has a good grasp on when he may be overrunning his rush and is able to redirect his momentum to stay in contain, not taking himself out of the play.
Burns has height and length, but lacks ideal bulk. His long, wiry frame may not be able to sustain the weight gain he would need to hold up at the NFL level, and if it can, it is going to take a significant amount of time to build up healthy weight to do so.
He displays a good deal of lower body explosiveness, but his agility is lacking both in bend and start/stop. I expect him to bench poorly, and while I’ve talked about a lack of functional strength I want to make sure I point out his poor bench is likely just going to be due to having very long arms. Long arms means bench presses are more difficult, that’s just basic physics.
I have seen Brian Burns projected as high six overall, and several mocks have landed him with the Lions at eight. I would not take him that high, and think his current value should be at the beginning of the second round.
His lack of bulk and bend make his pass rushing upside fairly low to start out his career, and he’ll likely only be used as a sub-package rusher early. There is starter upside there, but it’s probably going to be a few seasons before you really start seeing those dividends.
As talented as this pass rushing group is perceived, someone may take a flier on Burns in the first round to bank on his developmental traits, and I, frankly, can’t find fault with that. I tend to watch prospects chronologically, so I can see some of their progression from year to year, and there are few who stood out as having gotten better as they worked more than Burns has. Burns is a very high upside pick, but comes with significant risk as his size and immediate projection are going to be huge question marks going forward.