When people began wondering what juniors would forego their final year of eligibility & enter the NFL draft it seemed the consensus that safety Morgan Burnett would return to school after a perceived "subpar" season in which our defense struggled mightily. While 2009 was certainly not as productive as 2008 for "UNO", much of that can be attributed to the overall struggles faced by our defense last season. Morgan Burnett is ready for the NFL and here's why:
- Frame: 6'1", 210
- Speed: Burnett doesn't possess elite speed but plays fast & makes up for any deficiencies in this area with other strengths (instincts, agility). A good time in the 40 at the combine will really help Burnett's draft status.
- Agility/Quickness: very smooth, fluid athlete. Great hips and is easily able to turn & run with receivers. Very good burst.
- Size: perfect for the current mode of the NFL safety. Big enough to play the strong spot over the tight end & lean enough to excel in coverage. Strong enough to play the run.
- Coverage: very good in coverage & even played some corner & nickel in college. Can "flip" his hips & change direction very fluidly. Big enough to play press & excels in zone with his great break on the ball. 14 interceptions in college. A strength.
- Run Support: willing to come up to the line & play the run. Not a big hitter but a very sure tackler. Finds the ball quickly but sometimes takes poor angles. Can get caught in traffic.
- Tackling: uses good form & is a very sure tackler which is good for a player that's always around the ball.
- Instincts: superior. Always around the ball. Diagnosis run or pass very quickly & reacts in a flash. His great instincts translate into very good "play speed" i.e. he plays fast. Able to read a QB's eyes & gets great break on the ball.
We've seen a shift in the NFL over the past 20 years from big, run support safeties to more coverage oriented players as the league has gotten more pass happy. Roy Williams & Steve Atwater, while great against the run & fearsome hitters, are exposed by today's pass heavy offenses. Burnett provides supreme flexibility (can play either safety spot) while performing well against both run & pass. When UNO declared for the draft, many called him foolish & said he would never get drafted early enough to justify leaving school early. I even heard some people suggest he would be lucky to get drafted before the 4th round. Not gonna happen, folks. If you ever watched Burnett practice at Tech you realize what a special talent he is. Even on a very good team like our 2009 squad, Burnett was just a notch more fluid & smooth than all the athletes around him, including his fellow Juniors entering the draft. It just seems effortless for Burnett. So where's he get drafted? Best case scenario is Pittsburgh at #25. If not there, then sometime before the end of the second round. You heard it here first: no way he makes it out of the second round. Just too good an athlete. While Eric Berry of Tennessee gets the hype (deservedly so) Burnett will quickly rise up draft boards & be a very solid NFL player. Earl Thomas of Texas & Taylor Mays of USC might be drafted higher but Burnett will have a better career. In fact, if I had to pick which of our four juniors entering the draft has the longest & most successful NFL career, I'd choose #1. I hope they all succeed, mind you, but Burnett would be my choice. Strong predictions for a strong player.