Summary: Edge defenders who can get after the quarterback are always in demand given the passing-driven game of the NFL. With his speed, athleticism and length, Burns has the potential to be an impactful edge defender with double-digit sack potential as a pro. Over three years at Florida State, Burns proved to be a consistent quarterback hunter.
As a freshman in 2016, Burns notched 9.5 sacks with 10.5 tackles for a loss, 24 tackles, and a forced fumble as a rotational edge defender. He then played well in his sophomore season, recording 48 tackles with 13.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and four passes batted. Burns was disruptive and put more pressure on the quarterback than his sack total indicates from that season. As a junior, Burns was one of the only bright spots for Florida State, totaling 52 tackles with 15.5 tackles with a loss, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and three passes batted. After the end of the season, Burns announced he would skip his senior year to enter the 2019 NFL Draft.
Burns is very talented in the pass rush. Off the snap, he displays explosive first-step quickness. Burns is fast to turn the corner and just flat runs by tackles with pure speed. Burns has a long frame, but shows some nice ability to bend around the edge. He can dip underneath blockers and has a burst to close that makes it difficult for tackles to recover against him. For the NFL, Burns could use more pass-rushing moves. Featuring more spins, cuts to the inside, and rip moves would help him when he takes on better competition who won't be beaten by just a speed rush. As a junior, Burns flashed the potential for a repertoire of moves, and he just needs to continue to work on it for handling pro offensive tackles.
As a run defender, Burns is much better in pursuit, where he can use his speed and athleticism to chase down tackles. Burns is agile to work through trash and get to the ball-carriers. He has good vision with read-and-react skills to get in position to make plays. There is no doubt that Burns is going to need to add weight and strength for the NFL. Against pro offensive linemen, he is going to have problems holding up against downhill runs coming straight at him. Burns has gained some weight, but he needs to put on a lot more. Luckily for him, he has the frame to do it, so it is possible that fills out as he as he ages and gets experience in a pro strength and conditioning program. However entering the NFL, Burns is a liability in run support.
In speaking with NFL sources, they say Burns would have to start out his career a designated pass-rusher only if he is drafted in a 4-3 defense. They believe he would not fit well as a Sam - strong side - outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. Thus, he would be a defensive end who is only used in obvious pass-rush situations. Burns would fit best as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but in that scheme, he also could be rotated out a fair amount in run defense.
Here is what one area scout had to say about Burns, "I like him as a Day 2 guy, just because of the athleticism. You have to know what you're getting as a player, because he isn't going to be ready yet as a three-down defender. I couldn't take him in the first round just from a physical - size - standpoint."
Other team sources, however, are higher on Burns. A number of team sources told me they graded Burns in the second round, while a few said they thought he could be a late first-round pick. After Burns' excellent combine workout and showing up at a heavier weight, he will probably get selected in the middle to back half of the first round during the 2019 NFL Draft.
Player Comparison: Leonard Floyd. One team sources said that a contact of theirs at Florida State said Burns had gotten into the 230s in the summer of 2018, and then he showed up at the combine at 249 pounds. The question will be if Burns can sustain that weight and play at a heavier size. Sources say that Burns is still a lightweight, but he has similar speed, athleticism, and edge-rushing potential to Floyd.
NFL Matches: Washington, Carolina, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Houston, Oakland, Indianapolis, Kansas City, New England
After the top-10 picks, there are a lot of teams that could consider drafting Burns. In the teens, he has some potential landing spots. The Redskins lost Preston Smith in free agency, so they could consider taking Burns to replace him. Just after Washington, the Panthers could take Burns with the 16th pick. Carolina needs to improve its pass rush and replace the retiring Julius Peppers.
Late in the top 20, the Titans could use a young pass-rusher to pair with Harold Landry, so Burns could be in play for them. Pittsburgh could use an edge rusher to go with T.J. Watt, so picks 19 and 20 are in play for Burns.
Among the playoff teams, Burns faces a lot of options. Seattle could use another edge rusher, and Burns could be a scheme fit for the Seahawks. A few picks later, Burns could be in play for Houston. The Texans have bigger needs along the offensive line and in the secondary, but they have to consider more pass-rush talent. Jadeveon Clowney may not be signed to a long-term deal, while Whitney Mercilus wasn't the same last year. J.J. Watt is also aging, so the Texans could consider Burns.
Oakland could use a young edge rusher to go with Arden Key, so Burns could interest the team with its two picks in the 20s. The Colts also could use a young edge rusher to go across from Jabaal Sheard. Kansas City cut Justin Houston and were shopping Dee Ford, so the organization is looking to get younger at edge rusher.
The defending champions could also consider more pass-rush talent. Trey Flowers left in free agency, and the Patriots could stand to improve their edge rush.