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Brian Burns would be a situational pass rusher to begin Buffalo Bills’ career

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Where would Brian Burns fit in Buffalo?

Looking at the Buffalo Bills’ roster, defensive end might not scream out as a need. When you dive in to the contracts and numbers, it becomes clear that a defensive end is definitely in the mix for round one of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Jerry Hughes is entering the final year of his deal. Shaq Lawson is likely entering the final year of his deal. Trent Murphy was not good at generating pressure a year ago and struggled coming back from injury. Eddie Yarbrough was benched in favor of undrafted rookie Mike Love down the stretch. A top-end pass rusher could really help out.

Enter Brian Burns, the Florida State defensive end. He has the ability to generate pressure and can get to the quarterback.

Team fit

By all accounts, Burns does not take a play off, something that head coach Sean McDermott is consistently looking for. Another thing that stands out is his football IQ. He has the smarts to be successful in the NFL. If he had just those two things, the Bills would be interested but he has the physical tools to back them up.

Burns would slot in as a pure pass rush specialist for Buffalo in his first season. With three other capable defensive ends on the roster, they wouldn’t add a ton to his plate in the first year on the field.

Off the field, they will be adding to his plate plenty. At 249 pounds he’d be the second-tallest defensive end on the roster but the lightest by at least five pounds. His playing weight at Florida State was closer to 235. The biggest question mark for Burns is whether his body can support adding additional weight in order to become a true three-down defender.

Since coming to Buffalo, McDermott has added Trent Murphy (6’6”, 260 lbs) as the largest new piece of the defensive end puzzle. Eddie Yarbrough (6’3”, 259 lbs) and Mike Love (6’3”, 255 lbs) were limited investments as minimum signings but all three have larger mass than Burns. A lot of rookies need to add muscle mass after the pre-draft process and Burns will be no exception.

Carolina only drafted two defensive ends while Sean McDermott was defensive coordinator: Kony Ealy in 2014 and Frank Alexander in 2012. Ealy measured 6’4”, 273 pounds at the Combine and Alexander was 6’4”, 270.

Player comparison

The player most Bills fans think when they see “undersized defensive end prospect” is Aaron Maybin. Maybin was 6’4” and 249 lbs at the Combine, so the body type comparisons are accurate.

The best-case scenario for someone of Burns’s body type is probably Danielle Hunter of the Minnesota Vikings. At the 2015 Combine, Hunter measured 6’5”, 252 lbs. They are within a half-inch in arm length.

Hunter went to the Pro Bowl in 2018 after beginning his career as a situational pass rusher. After six sacks in his first season, he had 12.5, 7, and 14.5 in his subsequent seasons. He played 36% of the team’s snaps in his rookie year but was up to a whopping 84% in 2018. That’s an insanely high number for a defensive lineman.

Sample play: TEX stunt

(By Dan Lavoie)

This defensive line call takes advantage of Burns’s strong suit: His awesome change-of-direction and burst. The nose tackle slams into the offensive guard and slants toward the offensive tackle. This occupies those blockers, and creates room for the defensive end (Burns), who runs across from behind his teammate. Burns will arrive in a vacated gap, with only an unprepared center to beat before he can rush through to the quarterback. With his athleticism, that’s an easy win.


With the body type comparisons to McDermott defensive ends, I think Burns is unlikely to be Buffalo’s pick at number nine, despite his high motor and pass-rushing speed and skills. If they trade down into the bottom half of the first round, he could be on their board—but he just doesn’t seem to fit the bill.