Patriots Draft: Another
Linebacker In The Mix
By Tim Yotter
For teams that dont win the sweepstakes with one of the top-ranked linebackers in the draft, there is another alternative that might be had in the second round. Beyond his statistics is a better story of respect and maturity.
Derrick Johnson is clearly the favorite to be the first linebacker taken in the draft, and after him Marylands Shawne Merriman is the next one projected to play either defensive end or outside linebacker in the NFL. After those two, there is a player who doesnt get much mention in mock drafts, but Tennessees Kevin Burnett has gained the interest of the some of the teams around the league in the market for help on defense. According to him, the list includes the likes of the Minnesota Vikings, Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants, among others.
Burnetts production at Tennessee came early. He was a PrepStar All-American at free safety in high school, then made the switch to linebacker after contributing as a free safety during the first half of his freshman year in college. But the fast track to success through Tennessee slowed in a hurry. After starting two games as a sophomore, Burnett tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in the 2002 season opener.
He started the last 12 games of the 2003 season and considered declaring early for the NFL Draft, but the more he learned of scouts impressions of him the more he became convinced that he needed another season of college football to prove his knee injury was behind him.
At the combine, he said his knee and a 2001 dislocated shoulder both checked out well after an MRI, so his decision to return to Tennessee for his senior year may have been the best move. He recorded 120 tackles and earned All-Southeastern Conference honors after his senior season. For his career, he had 274 tackles, 23 for a loss, and eight sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, seven passes broken up and an interception.
Besides his senior year, the numbers arent all that impressive, but Burnett is considered a linebacker with a lot of top-end potential. The major knock on him is his ability to disengage from blocks and his willingness to cover backs and tight ends.
More than statistics, two things make Burnett an intriguing prospect.
First, he represented himself at the combine as an extremely mature, respectful and intelligent person. While waiting on some reporters who were talking with Louisville linebacker Robert McCune, who served in Iraq, Burnett paid servicemen and women tribute.
I feel like anybody thats done that for himself and his country, take all the time you need, Burnett said of waiting on McCune. I have a lot of family members in the service and it really means a lot to me, to see people walking through the airport, I make it a point to go shake their hands or wave or tell them thank you or something.
On the intelligence quotient, Burnett already has his Bachelors and Masters degrees in sports management with a minor in business after five years of college and while playing major Division I football.
It was just something to keep myself from being a victim of being ripped off, one, and two just to learn the business side of things, how money works, how can you make your money work for you, how can I keep myself and my family away from struggling, he said.
If you just look at all of the players whove been ripped off, have money, things that are issues in life money, how you live, I dont want to deal with those issues. If I am making, hopefully, $200,000 a year, there is no way I should be broke.
His leadership hasnt been questioned, as he and Michael Munoz were the first Volunteers to be named Tennessee team captains as juniors since 1947.
On the football field, another thing that makes Burnett an interesting prospect is his feeling that he may end up being a better fit at strong safety, where he started his college career.
Thats where my strengths are, he said. A lot of people say hes a linebacker, hes a linebacker, hes a linebacker. Well, what do you get when you get a linebacker who can play strong safety and linebacker? I feel like it makes me more valuable. I feel like not a lot of linebackers can do that.
I think, actually, once they see my athletic ability up close and personal, then things may change.
Scouts sure have to look beyond the raw statistics and game film to get a clear view of Kevin Burnett. The Patriots may be just the team to do that.
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