Grading Brian Burns, the Panthers’ first-round pick
It’s hard to argue with Florida State defensive end Brian Burns as the Carolina Panthers’ 2019 first-round draft pick, and I’m not going to try.
Burns certainly appears to fill a basic need for a team that lacked a consistent pass rush for most of 2018, when defensive end Julius Peppers finally acted his age and no Panther besides defensive end Mario Addison had more than five sacks.
The Panthers finished 27th in the NFL in sacks last season, and that hurt. Any halfway decent NFL quarterback can pick a defense apart when he has time.
So here comes Burns, with his interesting back story and his refreshing confidence. The NFL’s No. 16 overall pick only weighed 242 pounds at his Pro Day, which is light for an NFL defensive end. But, said Panthers general manager Marty Hurney: “His ceiling is extremely high.”
Those traits include speed, length and a very quick burst. The Panthers brass described Burns on Thursday night in much the same way they often describe their best pass rusher, Mario Addison, who has averaged slightly over 10 sacks per season for the past three years.
If Burns got into that range as a rookie, the Panthers would be ecstatic. And Carolina fans would also get a big dose of a new superhero celebration. Cam Newton’s “Superman” in the end zone has become a staple, but Burns likes to celebrate his sacks with a “Spiderman” pose.
“I always loved Spiderman as a kid,” he said.
In one of those so-weird-it-must-be-true stories, Burns’ older brother, Stanley McClover, was the Panthers’ seventh-round pick in 2006. McClover stuck around the NFL for three years, only posting one career sack but allowing his younger brother time to visit and meet some of his Carolina teammates like Peppers and DeAngelo Williams. So, Burns said, being picked by the Panthers is “really mind-blowing.”
Another odd note: Burns was with McClover in 2006, at their home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when McClover was picked. And McClover was with Burns on Thursday night, at the NFL draft in Nashville, when his younger brother’s name was called.
“He’s probably more excited than me, to tell you the truth,” Burns said of McClover.
Burns will need to live in the weight room as a rookie, because 320-pound offensive tackles have a tendency to swallow up most 240-pound defensive ends. “He needs to get stronger,” Hurney said. “But you can’t coach some of the traits he has, the speed, the length, the change of direction.”
The Panthers have a lot of work still to do in the draft. I thought their first pick should have been an offensive tackle, simply because that is also such a major position of need. They have five of the draft’s first 115 picks, which means that an offensive tackle, another defensive lineman, a safety and a few other players are likely in their future.
Panthers fans at the team’s draft party – held on the field at Bank of America Stadium – cheered the pick when it came. Earlier in the evening, Panthers owner David Tepper had addressed them.
“The Super Bowl,” Tepper told the crowd. “There’s one game that matters. You want to get to that game and win that game. Anything is possible. We’re going to try to make it more possible tonight.”
That goal is still a long, long way off. But if Burns turns into the player the Panthers think he will be, it is at least slightly more possible.