Cornerback Joe Burnett played four seasons at the University of Central Florida, appearing in 50 games with 16 interceptions, 231 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 35 passes defended and one blocked kick.
Scout.com Senior NFL Analyst Ed Thompson told ColtPower that the Colts (as well as the rival Jaguars) had interviews with Burnett during the NFL Combine. He is a valued prospect as a defensive back — most likely as a dime or nickel back — but his true value for the Colts comes in the stats that he accumulated when he wasn't on defense.
In his four years with the Golden Knights, he returned 28 kickoffs for 791 yards (28.3 average) and two touchdowns and 96 punts for 1,304 yards (13.6 average) and three touchdowns.
Burnett heads upfield after an interception
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
T.J. Rushing is coming off an injury, and Pierre Garcon got mixed reviews in the return game — along with the rest of the men the Colts have brought in to return kicks the past few years. It's possible that Burnett could step onto the field on opening day and be the best return man on the team.
Burnett is currently ranked as the 21st player at his position and 163rd overall. Even though this is a strong cornerback class and a number of teams are going to be able to select quality players at an historically thin position, those are still low rankings.
His draft status has been hurt by the fact that he played his entire career in Conference USA, which is not considered a power conference, though the recent surges of East Carolina, Tulsa, and Memphis may change the way the conference is regarded in the future.
He also has a low ranking because he isn't considered to be a great athlete — he ran a 4.49 40, a 4.25 short shuttle, and only had 22 reps on the bench press — and his size is a concern, since he stands 5-feet-9 and tips the scales at 192 pounds.
But, considering that he would be playing for the Colts, he would be taller than Bob Sanders, Tim Jennings, and Brandon Foster, and heavier than Jennings, Foster, Rushing, Dante Hughes, Michael Coe, Nick Graham, and Travis Key.
That's most of the cornerbacks on the roster and one of the safeties — who just happened to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2007.
It's highly unlikely that Burnett will win the same honors, especially playing cornerback for the Colts. However, the Indianapolis defense — Alan Williams in particular — has done more with less in the past and can probably accomplish a lot with a four-year college starter that has the kind of diverse skill set that Burnett has.
If nothing else, he can immediately step in and contribute in the return game, where he already has a great deal of experience, expertise, and success, albeit not at the NFL level. There is no chance that the Colts will sign a return man in free agency to unseat Rushing and Garcon, so the man that will improve their return game in 2009 and beyond will come from within, or from April's draft. Outside of the two players that have previously returned kicks for Indianapolis, the options are unspectacular at best.
That means that Burnett can join the team and compete for significant playing time on special teams from day one. Even if he doesn't secure a roster spot and end up being their return specialist for the 2009 season, he will push Rushing and Garcon in camp and competition tends to bring out the best in players.
With his current ranking, he should fall to the latter part of the fifth round or early part of the sixth, so drafting Burnett carries with it a great deal of reward tempered with a very low element of risk.
If the Colts do not select a cornerback in the first three rounds — Burnett is not the only cornerback they've been eyeing and there's no guarantee that they won't pass on more of a "sure thing" in the earlier rounds with so much talent available — they owe it to themselves to give Burnett a shot.
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