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Know your wide receiver draft crush, Part 1: Methodology and Treylon Burks
We start our annual series on draft crushes with a position group the Chiefs are likely to address in the upcoming draft.
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It’s time, people. Time for the return of “know your draft crush.”
Every year, I look at multiple prospects from a position the Chiefs appear likely to take. Sometimes it works out perfectly (it led to me pounding the table for some dude named Patrick Mahomes), other years it ends differently (last year I reviewed multiple left tackle prospects before the Chiefs decided to trade for Orlando Brown instead). But it’s always a lot of fun and a chance to get to know a few of the players in the upcoming draft.
This year, I’ve picked wide receivers as my position group, with perhaps a side of defensive end (let’s face it, the Chiefs may well trade for a wide receiver before the draft). While the additions of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling help ease the loss of Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs could still use a high-level addition to the wide receiver room, especially given that both of those receivers are on relatively short deals. Additionally, when your quarterback is Patrick Mahomes, the ceiling for the offense is always “infinity,” and adding playmakers to double down on a strength is a good idea.
So here’s how it’s going to work: Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at a total of 13 wide receivers, gauging various traits and giving an overall impression of what type of resources I’d expend to grab them (trade up, 1st rounder, 2nd rounder, etc). At the end, I’ll put them into tiers and talk about who I would take and how I’d go about it if I were Brett Veach.
With each prospect I’ll look at the following: Speed/acceleration/agility, release ability (ability to get free at the line and how they do it), route running, hands/strength at catch point, and yards after catch ability. I’ll throw in a few random observations here and there, but mostly they’ll fit into those categories, as they are the traits that translate best into the NFL success.
I’ll try to be a new set of eyes, as I don’t follow college football and barely pay attention to draft coverage. I’ve intentionally done my best not to read too much about these players, so I come into this without any real preconceived notions about the players or who the ‘favorites’ are on draft twitter. My takeaways might look completely crazy or entirely “old news,” and I’ll have no idea.
I also don’t plan on relying too much on combine results or pro day numbers. If there’s something particularly interesting in athletic testing or we’re looking to confirm a potential issue we see on tape, I’ll discuss that on a case by case basis. But for me, athletic testing numbers are generally best served to answer close-call questions, not be a foundational piece of evaluation.
Here are the wide receivers I’ll be looking at in alphabetical order (the defensive ends we’ll get to a separate day):
Calvin Austin III, David Bell, Treylon Burks, Jahan Dotson, Drake London, Skyy Moore, Chris Olave, George Pickens, Alec Pierce, Jalen Tolbert, Christian Watson, Jameson Williams, Garrett Wilson.
These were the names brought to me most often from what I can tell, so they’re the ones I chose. If you’re looking for other draft resources, you should check out my friend Ryan Tracy’s Athletic Matrix, the good folk over at KCSN and their draft guide, Dane Brugler’s legendary “Beast,” or the people over at The Draft Network.
We’re going to start today with Treylon Burks. Why did I pick him first? I guess alphabetically? Plus, many of you have asked me about him, so it seemed to make sense.
Let’s look into some film. I reviewed the all-22 from his games against Texas, Missouri, Alabama, and Georgia.
Treylon Burks, Arkansas- 6’2”, 225 pounds
-Speed / acceleration / agility-
This is the place that everyone is likely going to start when discussing Burks, as he’s definitively not a player who wins with athleticism.
What’s interesting about Burks is that, at times, he demonstrates solid top-end speed and some acceleration when he’s running a go or other deep route.
When one sees plays like this, questioning Burks’ athleticism might seem silly. He has solid top speed and is able to maintain speed through contact, and his acceleration is more hit and miss than terrible in a straight line.
However, once you get away from straight line acceleration (which again, isn’t terrible but isn’t great either), Burks has some questions as an athlete. His change of direction on film isn’t good, and he’s not a stop/start player in terms of quickness. Virtually every cornerback that he faced in the games I watched looked to be quicker and more agile than he is, and that’s a tough way to win on a consistent basis without other significant high-level traits. Looking at his Athletic Matrix (again, check out Ryan’s work, it’s exceptional) you can see those issues carry through to his testing.
Of course, that “other significant high-level traits” issue is one where Burks becomes an intriguing prospect.
Burks had a relatively limited route tree in the offense at Arkansas (which was itself a limited offense), and he often lined up from the slot. Because of this it’s tough to get a gauge on his ability to get free at the line of scrimmage. He utilizes his feet decently when trying to execute stutter steps, but his lack of natural quickness sets him back in trying to get even with defenders.
However, because Burks is such a strong receiver, he’s able to win early in the route in some unique ways. If defenders are banking on a strong press slowing him down they risk him batting aside their hands or simply running through the contact without slowing enough for the defender to stay in front of him.
Burks had some impressive wins at the line of scrimmage against high-quality competition, but he also had times where his lack of agility led to inferior players being able to stay right in his hip pocket. He’s someone who will have to learn to win with violence at the line or he won’t be able to consistently get loose at the next level.
The role Burks played in his offense made examining his route running difficult. He wasn’t often asked to run multi-break routes and didn’t spend a lot of time going through the entire route tree. He often lined up in the backfield or was on quick routes meant to get the ball in his hands quickly, or downfield routes. So there’s limited information on film. There’s also the issue of Burks’ quickness/agility, which is a barrier to great route running.
However, it’s worth noting that there were times Burks was asked to run routes that included several stages/breaks, and he showed some potential to win with technique even with his agility issues.
This is one of my favorite routes for Burks through the games I reviewed. He utilizes a head fake and stutter step to get the defender turned outside, and once the defender turns to try and recover, Burks shows some nice awareness by utilizing the blind spot to make his cut outside. He also limit his steps with a strong plant to turn outside and look for the ball.
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It’s just one route, but it’s intriguing in that it shows a way that Burks can create separation on non-go routes despite his physical limitations. Having a natural savvy in creating and then utilizing a blind spot is something that goes towards “feel” at the position. There are other receivers with his quickness issues who have developed the ability to separate with good foot/head work, and moments like this cropping up make him appear that he could be one of them. He also did, a few times, show some good instincts in slowing his routes through open zones (this was rare given his role, but it was there). That adds to at least the appearance of a smart player who can learn to win with his specific skillset.
Additionally, Burks is able to create separation and win on his routes by simply manhandling cornerbacks who are foolish enough to keep in physical contact with him. He’s able to maintain speed despite contact and, in many cases, it favors him when defenders attempt to keep a hand on him to slow him down as he’s able to throw them off balance with his power more so than they can do the same to him.
-Hands / strength at catch point-
This is the area where Burks makes himself stand out the most, and is likely the biggest reason teams are considering him as a high-level pick despite his agility issues. In short, he’s a bully at the catch point who is open even when he isn’t open.
Burks isn’t bothered by contact at the catch point, whether it’s a back shoulder throw, he’s being targeted over the middle, or it’s a contested jump ball situation. He plays through physicality and any garbage/noise that comes between him and the ball as it’s on its way. He can take a big shot at or immediately following the catch and generally hangs on and complete the play.
Burks tracks the ball very well while it’s in the air and shows very good body control in adjusting to it, a crucial (and underrated) aspect to being a deep ball threat. He has strong hands that snatch the ball out of the air or gather it into his body (which is different from trapping off the body) well, regardless of what is happening around him. He’s the sort of player that a quarterback can genuinely utilize the “Treylon down there somewhere” attitude and be right more often than he’s wrong, thanks to his physicality and ability to track and adjust to the ball.
Burks is the type of receiver that he can be well-covered by a defender and it doesn’t matter, because by the time the ball gets to him he’s enforced his will at the catch point.
Burks does toe the line of getting called for offensive pass interference, but at the pro level there’s little risk of that barring a blatant offense. There aren’t a lot of wide receivers who can physically impose their will on opponents and also catch the ball well, and Burks is one of them. When he is one on one against a defender, he’s open in a way most receivers aren’t regardless of where the defender is.
His work at the catch point is his most high-level trait, and he’s good enough here that the potential for a high-level pro career is on the table. It’s part of why he was able to perform equally well against all competition.
-Yards after catch / playmaking-
Burks is a natural playmaker with the ball in his hands. While his lack of agility means that he’s not going to make guys miss in the open field, he’s a very tough player for cornerbacks and safeties to tackle alone. He utilizes good balance and strength to brush off would-be tacklers and run through contact.
In addition to those physical traits, Burks does a few small things that all him to collect extra yardage after the catch, including getting his feet set for running even as the ball is arriving. His strong hands seem to allow him to do this without having drops as a result. He’s also able to run away from defenders with unexpected speed once he’s had an opportunity to ramp up (as discussed above). Because of his combination of strength and top-end speed, he’s a threat to break a tackle and then go for big yardage any time he gets the ball.
Burks is a very, very different player from what the Chiefs have featured over the last several years. On one hand, he has exceptional ball skills, deals with contact at an elite level, and is a true jump ball / contested catch receiver who can bully defenders who try to play a team physically. On the other hand, he hasn’t shown any consistent route running skills and has real questions about the requisite quickness to ever create separation at the pro level.
If the Chiefs were to draft Burks in the first round, those concerns with his quickness/agility would leave me feeling underwhelmed given the potential for problems getting open. However, as a second round pick I wouldn’t be upset given his his potentially high ceiling and his ability to win in a way other receivers can’t. You’re just counting on him to maintain those traits at the pro level while not having his limitations stand out more.
Burks is a player who wouldn’t surprise me if he turned out to have a relatively disappointing pro career, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if he was a consistent thousand-yard player. The flaws are there. But the high-level traits? Those are hard to find in a receiver.