Our series of posts on players in whom the Cowboys have expressed interest stays in the defensive backfield and turns its gaze to the West, where the Utah Utes and cornerback Brandon Burton ply their trade. After being buried behind future second-round pick Sean Smith on the depth chart as redshirt freshman in 2008, Burton has assumed a starting role the past two seasons. In 2010, his second season as a starter, Burton picked off two passes and deflected eight more; in addition, he made 51 tackles and blocked two kicks, including a game-saving blocked field goal against arch-rival BYU. At the end of the campaign, he was rewarded by being named Second-team all-Mountain West.
Not only did Burton's senior season spur the coaches in his conference recognize the strengths in his game; his length (just short of 6 feet), speed (4.42 forty at the Combine) and quick feet have placed him on NFL scouts' radar since the end of the season. At the Combine, Burton rose in the eyes of NFL types; he not only ran the aforementioned forty time, but acquitted himself well in position drills; scouts described him as incredibly smooth and noted his ability to quickly drive forwards to the football out of his backpedal. A video of his combine workout can be found here.
That said, NFL teams aren't exactly battering down Burton's door. Thus far, he's only visited the Browns and Cowboys for pre-draft visits. Lets see what it is about him that interests them (after the jump, of course):
National Football Post (Wes Bunting) 8th-rated CB; 75th overall
A tall, lean cornerback who possesses good overall length for the position. Is at his best when asked to play up near the line in press coverage. However, can be inconsistent with his hands. Has a tendency to play press bail and doesn't do a real consistent job extending his arms and getting a good bump on receivers. Nevertheless, he's comfortable in his drop, stays patient with his turn, is fluid when asked to turn and run and possesses the speed to quickly get down the field. Runs very well for his size and is very difficult to get behind. Looks comfortable when asked to play on an island, does a nice job getting his head around, locating the football and going up in jump ball situations. Is a gifted leaper who maximizes his length with good timing and balance, and is tough to complete passes on in fade situations. Is also very effective in zone. Showcases good footwork and balance when asked to click and close on passes underneath. Is a willing tackler who will stick his head in, wraps well on the play and also does a nice job tackling after the catch, showcasing good initial burst out of his breaks.
However, isn't quite as impressive in off man when asked to sit into his drop and cleanly get out of his breaks. Possesses natural athleticism, but will allow his pad level to rise and footwork to get too narrow causing him to overextend in order to get out of his breaks. Is a step slower getting after the football or when asked to turn and run and has a tendency to allow receivers to get behind him much more easily. Also, can be overwhelmed in the run game by bigger, more physical receivers, possesses a thin build and can be knocked backward and off the football.
Impression: A tall, lanky corner with good ball skills, fluidity and closing speed underneath. Needs to tighten up his drop and footwork in off coverage, but is the kind of guy who can come in and play early in his NFL career and mature into a very solid NFL starter in a predominantly press man scheme.
The Sporting News (Russ Lande) 18th-rated CB; overall unknown (not in top 99)
Strengths: Is a well built cornerback who seems to enjoy playing physical in man-to-man coverage. Has the playing speed to run with receivers on deep routes. Can get up high to break up a pass. Flashes willingness and ability to jolt a receiver with a hard jam to slow his release off the line of scrimmage. Has outstanding natural ball skills. Displays the ability to take on and defeat blocks in order to make the tackle in run support.
Weaknesses: Is an inconsistent overall cornerback who needs to improve in a lot of areas to become the player he has the talent to be. Tends to be a step late driving forward out of his backpedal. Is too aggressive trying to close and make a play on the ball that he makes mistakes, including jumping on play-action and pump fakes. Lacks the explosive burst and top end speed to recover and get back into good coverage position.
Bottom line: Burton, a junior who came out early for the draft, could have helped himself by staying another season as he needs to become more consistent in his technique to play up to his talent level. Burton needs to work on his backpedal and do a better job of reading the pass. Overall, Burton makes so many plays on the ball that he is likely to be drafted higher than we have him rated. However, if he does not improve his technique and consistency, he'll never be more than a backup.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki) 11th-rated CB; 88th overall
Positives: Good height and leaping ability to contend with big receivers (see Pittsburgh vs. Jonathan Baldwin). Has natural covers kills to turn, run and make plays on the ball. Is athletic and moves fluidly—accelerates and glides over turf. Enough speed to keep pace vertically. Good closing burst on plays in front of him. Has experience as a jammer. Good character.
Negatives: Has small hands. Too linear and straight-linish Struggled to match up against better competition (see San Diego State, TCU and Notre Dame). Lacks elite top-end speed and twitch. Is lean and underpowered and needs to bulk up and improve functional strength—stays stuck on blocks and gets bullied on the perimeter. Does not square up ballcarriers and passes up some contact. Limited physicality. Technique needs refinement and is susceptible to double moves. Inconsistent and gets beat more than he should. Has a 32-inch vertical jump.
Summary: Good-sized, confident, finesse cover man who is most comfortable manning up and using his length and natural cover skills. Could develop into a No. 2 but is not an elite athlete and does not project as a core special-teamer, and soft playing style will turn off some teams.
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton) 13th-rated CB; 102 overall
Instincts/Recognition: Reads quarterbacks and can get an early break on the ball when facing the line of scrimmage. Has a good feel for when to turn head and locate ball. Adequate route recognition but could do a better job of anticipating at times. Doesn't bite on play action but is also slow reacting to run.
Cover Skills: Confident and can hold own on an island when asked to line up in press or press bail coverage. Appears to have long arms and flashes the ability to reroute receivers. Fluid enough to turn and run with most receivers even when doesn't get a strong jam in at the line of scrimmage. Can run receivers into the sideline when has head turned to locate the ball. Closes quickly when receivers catch the ball in front of him and can limit production after the catch but doesn't show great recovery speed when gets caught in a trail position. High-cut and can take too long to transition. Takes extra steps to gear down on hitch routes and can allow too much separation out of breaks.
Ball Skills: Tracks the ball well and can reach in to knock it out without getting flagged for pass interference. Times jumps well and can win jump balls working against bigger receivers. But has some trouble catching passes thrown above his head. Traps the ball against frame and can drop passes that he should catch.
Run Support: Has good size potential and continues to improve his strength. Takes too long to get off blocks working against bigger receivers but willing to step up. Not a thumper that can deliver the big hit but doesn't shy away from contact and flashes the ability to cut the legs out from under bigger ball carriers. Can square and wrap up though a bit inconsistent in this area.
Intangibles: Head coach Kyle Whittingham said that Burton has natural leadership ability in March of 2010. Strong special teams' player at the collegiate level. Made the Athletic Director's Honor Roll in 2007.
Burton has impressed of late, largely because he has one of the better size-weight-speed ratios among the cornerbacks available this year. That said, scouts recognize that Burton will need to work with coaches on his footwork, hands for the interception and open-field tackling. In other words, he's got some NFL-caliber skills, but he's raw and therefore highly unlikely to come in and start right away. That combination says to me that he's a third or fourth rounder. Given the somewhat thin collection of defensive backs in this year's class, I'll slot him in the third, where the Cowboys pick at # 71.
Next up: Southern Illinois CB Korey Lindsey