We spoke with Sean Yuille of Pride of Detroit, SB Nation's Detroit Lions blog, about former Rutgers fullback Michael Burton and how he fits into the Lions' plans, both offensively and on special teams.
On the Banks: What are the chances you give Burton of being the starting fullback in 2015?
Sean Yuille: I'd put Burton's chances at around 90 percent right now. When the Lions decided to not re-sign veteran Jed Collins, instead opting to go younger, Emil Igwenagu became the favorite for the job by default. Now, though, with the Lions using a fifth-round pick on Burton, it's pretty clear they envision him in that role. Based on how the Lions used Collins last year, Burton should see the field on offense for at least 15 or so snaps a game as a lead blocker, a short-yardage back and an occasional receiver, and he should see extensive playing time on special teams.
OtB: What was the Detroit fan base's reaction to the selection?
SY: As for the fan reaction, it was by far the most unpopular of the Lions' picks this year. That had nothing to do with Burton himself; Lions fans were just up in arms over the idea of the team spending a fifth-round pick on a fullback. This was similar to the reaction when they took a punter in the fifth round a couple of years ago. Much like with that pick, people have started warming up to the Burton selection now that they have a better understanding of what he will bring to the table.
After Jed Collins, who followed Lions current offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi from New Orleans to Detroit in 2014, was let go this offseason, Detroit is in need of a versatile fullback who can both block and catch.
Enter Michael Burton.
The only other fullback on Detroit's roster is Emil Igwenagu, who spent last season on the Lions' practice squad. Prior to Detroit, Igwenagu spent two years with the Philadelphia Eagles, playing sparingly on special teams. Igwenagu is athletic with decent receiving skills (he played tight end at UMass), but lacks experience as a run-blocker.
In other words, the position is Burton's to lose.
There are certain positions, fullback being one of them, that a team will not draft unless they have expectations of that player being a day-one starter. Detroit's fifth-round selection of Burton certainly qualifies as one of those cases.
However, Detroit's offense is not an offense that relies heavily on a fullback. As Yuille pointed out, Burton should only see about 15 snaps per game on offense, simply because Detroit uses a variety of different sets.
When he is on the field, Burton may line up as a traditional fullback in I formation. Or as an H-back. Or they may move him pre-snap to create a mismatch. Either way, Burton possesses the athleticism and versatility to excel in all of these situations. Watch him the seal edge, from an H-back position, on Paul James' 56-yard TD run against Washington State.
In his preparation for the NFL Combine and Draft, Burton bulked up by adding 20 pounds to his already powerful frame. But the extra weight did not take away from his quickness, as he exhibited at his Pro Day.
And although Burton may be known to the Rutgers faithful as a lunchpail guy, hard-working, tough, humble, he did have a few moments in his career that may have left fans wondering is that Michael Burton out there or Brian Leonard? For example, his 34-yard catch and run versus Washington State. Not to mention, on Jon Gruden's favorite play: Spider 2 Y Banana!
Burton should also see plenty of action on special teams and only playing 15-20 snaps on offense should make him available for nearly all of the special teams sets.
And as a fullback with speed and receiving skills, don't be surprised to see Detroit utilize Burton on fakes, like head coach Kyle Flood did on a crucial fourth down in the bowl win over North Carolina.
With the departure of Jed Collins and only one other fullback on the roster, Burton is in line to see plenty of action from day one. He has the dedication and athleticism to flourish in Detroit's system as a blocker, receiver and special teams player. Rutgers fans should tune in to Lions games (Detroit has three primetime games, one Thursday night game and a Thanksgiving Day game) to watch the fan favorite make the transition to the NFL.
Burton is everything a team needs in a fullback and, judging by their fifth-round selection, the Lions need him.