The 2018 Buffalo Bills only saw a combined 15 sacks between Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, Trent Murphy, and Eddie Yarbrough. Contractually, the entire unit could be overhauled by 2020. Could their first-round draft pick be used to get a head start? Today we’re going to profile Florida State’s Brian Burns, one of the marquee edge rushers in this year’s rookie class. Let’s dive in.
The immediate impression of Burns is how freakishly athletic he is. His first step is excellent, and the second and third steps are even better. He can turn on a dime, and stop-start with only a step or two to reset his momentum. Burns’s top-end speed is fast enough that he could be trusted to drop into coverage and still finish with a tackle.
That excellent athleticism is paired with a long, 6’5” frame with a nearly 84” wingspan. He uses that length to swat down passes and swipe at quarterbacks’ arms. In three seasons at FSU, Burns had seven passes defended and seven forced fumbles.
Burns seemingly always has a pass-rushing plan when he goes to work. With fast, active arms, he can keep linemen out of his chest and put them on the defensive. Burns has an absolute bevy of pass-rushing moves. He’s creative, varied, and willing to pull them out multiple times per game. I think his go-to is the spin move, but he has chops, rips, swipes, and counter moves. Below I’ve clipped a few examples.
Burns plays with his hair on fire, going hard on every snap. In pursuit, he’ll chase a player down the sidelines if necessary. He’s also a feisty competitor. I always saw him get in the last shove after the play was over, and he would take opportunities to whoop with his teammates or yap at an opponent after a big play.
Though he played at roughly 235 pounds, Burns actually has a decently stout anchor in his lower body. However, he’s never going to be a dominant edge setter. He’s a bit too lithe to control a gap against strong linemen, and he’s often torqued to the side on running plays. Whether this is a physical limitation or an issue with Burns taking bad angles to set the edge, I’m not sure. Either way, it’s his main drawback.
Edge rusher may be the premier position group from this NFL Draft class, at least in the first round. Burns arguably belongs in the top tier with Nick Bosa and Josh Allen. He has a rare combination of athletic ability and size, and he merges that with a combination of motor and creativity that help him reach his potential. Burns has the upside of a top-ten NFL pass rusher, and that could give the Bills an elite defensive unit moving forward.