As the undrafted rookie out of Florida snared over-the-shoulder throws from Matt Barkley, gamely trapping one difficult sling against his helmet a la David Tyree, I sighed, thinking, "I'm gonna feel sad when I see that he's been cut."
Indeed, it seemed somewhat improbable that Burton was going to crack the 53-man roster, in spite of his circus catches. After all, the three tight ends ahead of him could be starters on many teams around the league.
To put it another way, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz did a lot of damage last season, making tough catches, blocking expertly (in Celek's case), and helping move the league's fastest offense, despite being big-bodied and taking their share of hard hits. The third wheel, James Casey, found primary use as a special teams wedge, which led to some scribes unfairly term him a wasted signing.
Point being, with Celek and Ertz gobbling up the snaps, Casey barely found use in a noticeable 'glamour' position. With all three in tact for the 2014 roster, and Casey 'invisible' to this extent, what use would Burton have to just clog a roster spot?
While I briefly entertained the notion that Chip Kelly could release Casey, or trade him for picks, in order to accommodate Burton as the third tight end, I remembered that Casey's blocking will be a golden ticket into the 53-man roster until the day that desirable skill regresses.
Casey did indeed make the team and hey, so has Burton, joining Auburn kicker Cody Parkey as the only undrafted rookies on the final roster. Evidently, the tight-end's velcro hands were too valuable to release, especially for Kelly to risk waiting for the practice squad-signing window to open.
I suspected that Burton would be too good to waste away as a tackling dummy in weekday practice, but what might his actual amount of use be this season?
Looking past the obvious possibility that Burton may be a gameday inactive, only plugged in if Celek and Ertz end up missing time, it's possible that Kelly's looking for a way to work in sets that feature the three speedier tight ends, Burton included.
At this stage, Burton could possibly be a more desirable downfield tight end than even Ertz, whose best plays come on leaping catches and working underneath. His 4.58 40-time was second fastest among tight ends at this year's Combine, and could be an asset in mismatches against less adept safeties.
Perhaps that could be Burton's lot, to draw safeties or linebackers away in coverage, and get some more favorable one-on-ones for other receivers downfield. If Kelly's want is for the speed of the Eagles to decimate defenses, he got a thrift-store bargain for the undrafted rookie.
Kelly kept him to do more than just hit the roster max as a seat-filler. While Matthew Tucker, Henry Josey, Damion Square, Emmanuel Acho, and other gifted players fell just short of the gameday-eligible grouping, Burton caught the bus.
He has the capacity to do far more than simply occupy a seat.
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