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11 for 11 NFL Draft series: Brian Burns can add a new dimension to the Bengals’ defense

The NFL Draft is about teams adding players with skillsets that they do not possess. The Bengals implementing Burns into their pass rush exemplifies that perfectly.

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NCAA Football: Clemson at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Almost one year later, it remains unexplainable how safety Derwin James lasted beyond the first 16 picks of the 2018 NFL Draft. We could be saying the same thing about James’ former teammate Brian Burns in one year’s time as well.

NFL teams like to use the phrase “checking all the boxes” when referring to great prospects, but what exactly are the true boxes that need to be checked? For edge rushers, the best have typically always been above average all-around athletes and have produced at a high level in at least one season for their college program.

In this year’s crop of pass rushers, it’s difficult to find someone with a cleaner résumé than Burns who can also back it up with game tape.

Yet as we approach the final week of draft preparation, Burns’ name is absent from most discourse regarding the top-10 picks and is projected to come off the board somewhere in the middle of the first round.

For a team that has shown significant interest in bolstering their pass rush, the Bengals should be a logical landing spot for Burns’ services. I’m here to speak it into existence.

Why the pick makes sense:

  • The same arguments we made for the Bengals drafting Montez Sweat apply for Burns as well. Depth behind Carlos Dunlap at the EDGE position is questionable at best, which is not something any team should feel comfortable about at such an imperative position group. An extra body who can provide a pass-rushing spark is needed.
  • Production traits, athleticism traits and film traits make Burns one of the safest prospects in this entire draft.
  • Only Nick Bosa can be argued to have a greater mental acumen for his edge-rushing process in this class. He actually lead the ACC in pressures for edge rushers eligible for the draft (this article breaks down his process magnificently).
  • Though he measured in smaller than 250 pounds and played even lighter than that, Burns’ value as a pass rusher trumps his likelihood of being a traditional edge-setting defensive end by a considerable amount. You don’t draft edge rushers high to defend the run in the first place.
  • Even if you don’t consider him a complete edge player, the Bengals already have two “base” edges in Dunlap and Sam Hubbard. Let Burns worry about getting after the quarterback alongside Carl Lawson.
  • On draft night, Burns will have turned 21 just two days prior, giving him even more objective upside than he already had.
  • Burns’ obtainable ceiling is that of a Pro Bowl edge rusher, and with the film backing it up, that’s a player that is worth a high-first round pick every year.
  • While he can rush in from a two and three-point stance, Burns also has experience as an off ball linebacker and can act as a quarterback spy in specific packages, which would a much needed element for the Bengals’ defense.
  • Ultimately, Burns’ ability to threaten the edge with speed and bend would give the Bengals a unique asset to their defense that they haven’t had in quite some time.

Why the pick doesn’t make sense:

  • There is a slight question in value. Defensive line is going to be a position group heavily targeted in the top 10 picks and Burns will be at least the third edge rusher off of the board.
  • Burns would provide significant snaps in his rookie year, but the Bengals would not be drafting a “starter” with their most important pick here.
  • Picking Burns means going into the second day of the draft still needing a new linebacker and an offensive tackle.
  • Burns lacks the traditional density of a three-down defensive end — which may give the Bengals the idea of making him put on unnecessary added weight.
  • Because of that lack of build, Burns is not the most effective edge-setter, which could diminish his value in some eyes.
  • The addition of Burns likely means 2017 third-round pick Jordan Willis is on the hot seat and could stunt his development even more.

There’s more reasons to like the Bengals drafting Burns than vice versa. The 32nd ranked defense from a year ago had more issues than at linebacker, and Burns’ presence would add a fresh dimension to a unit that has been mainly dormant and without an identity. Don’t worry about if he starts or not — his contributions will be more than noticeable by year’s end.

What do you think about the Bengals drafting Burns with the 11th overall pick?