Making sense of the Rams draft and giving it a proper evaluation is going to take some time, like seeing those picks in a season of play. Nonetheless, we're couting on them, most of them, to make their mark this season for the sake of the coach's future, and hell, maybe the team's future too.
The Rams addressed the wide receiver position in the draft, a key need after the loss of Isaac Bruce and questions about Drew Bennett. Second round pick Donnie Avery brings the expectation of the former University of Houston WR stretching the field like elastic. This site and the internets have buzzed with Avery talk since the Rams shocked the pundit class with their second round pick. Somewhat overlooked in all that talk is Kentucky Wildcat WR (yeah, I know, they have football at UK too!) Keenan Burton, the Rams second pick of the fourth round. What Avery has with his speed, Burton has with his physicality.
We've got the pundit reports on Burton, but to really get to know more about him, I asked Truzenzuzex of SBN's Kentucky Wildcats blog, A Sea of Blue , to give us the fans' eye view of the player and what he brings to a team. Here's his report:
- Keenan was a quarterback in high school, so he understands the game very well from the other side of the passing game.
- Burton is a good route runner who has excellent timing and will wind up where the quarterback expects him to be.
- He has excellent speed and athleticism, although he doesn't have blazing speed.
- At 6'2", he is at the lower end of the prototype for the NFL, but he is very long and can really get up in the air.
- Burton also played safety in high school, so he knows what DB's think.
Keenan has great hands for a former safety, is as tough as they come, and doesn't mind contact.
- Keenan studies the game. He reviewed more tape than anyone on the team, even some of the coaches, and it was axiomatic with him that he would know his opponent's tendencies every game.
- Burton is very shifty after the catch, and tends to turn short gains into big plays. He returned kickoffs for the Cats as well as playing WR, and he was our best kick returner. He has a knack for finding seams and the athleticism to exploit them.
- Today's NFL receivers tend to be a little bit bigger and faster.
Keenan's body type is less durable than some. Long legs can be targets for injury on Sunday.
- Keenan can occasionally blow routes, probably no more so than anyone else, but I remember a few from last season. He runs routes very precisely, but he occasionally loses focus.
- Burton is one of those players who will set the standard for effort on any team. He can make others afraid not to follow his example.
- Keenan loves to apply his brain cells to any problem. That can be contagious, and is usually good.
- Leadership is a big part of Burton's psyche from his days as "Iron Man" at Louisville DuPont Manual High. He understands the game as well as anyone.
- Burton has always been a leader, and it should be no different in the pros.
- Burton has suffered from nagging injuries this year, and hasn't been 100% all year long.
- How durable is Keenan on Sunday against the size and abruptness of the NFL?
- Is Burton fast enough to beat professional DB's consistently?
- Is Burton strong enough to fight off professional DB's and hold the ball under contact from pro linebackers?
- How much room to improve does Keenan have?
(A big thanks to Truz from A Sea of Blue for the SWOT analysis. Now, let's try to assess the threats. Burton's injuries last season are what dropped him to the fourth round, by all accounts. He is, at the moment healthy, and was able to participate fully in minicamp earlier this month. As far as staying healthy, that's a lingering issue for the Rams as a whole. The team's making a concerted effort to restructure their training camp and preseason activities with one goal being to get players in game shape. Burton's a hard worker in the training room too, so hopefully with the appropriate guidance he can get to a place physically where he can withstand the day-in, day-out abuse of the NFL as much as any other player can. Obviously, staying healthy is the biggest question for Burton.
How much room does he have to improve? Can he learn to work around the speedy, physical corners and linebackers in the NFL? Well, there's certainly no better place to be than on an Al Saunders offense. Saunders and the Rams have an indisputable track record when it comes to molding wide receivers. Better route running can be learned, and he'll get the chance to do that with the Rams. Seeing that one Burton's strengths is his dedication, you can be sure he'll study the playbook and make every effort to establish himself as a professional wide receiver. His work in the training room will have some effect on how he holds up against NFL defenders (note that he played in the defense-happy SEC too). However, he'll have the chance to improve his technique - staying low, learning to better use stop and go speed, etc. - through the summer.
Will he make the roster? That's a good question. The Rams have veterans like Looker, Stanley, Williams, Hagans, and free agent addition Reche Caldwell on the roster now, and with Avery and Burton competing for spots, there's not enough room for all of them. The hope is that Burton will make a solid case for himself this summer. Putting him on the practice squad exposes him to other teams ready to test his potential on their 53 man roster. He definitely profiles as the kind of the player the Rams want to start making the cornerstones of their franchise heading into the future.