Heading into the free agency period this offseason, wide receiver wasn’t viewed as a pressing need. Many viewed JuJu Smith-Schuster’s injury plagued 2021 season as a chance for the team to retain him at a bargain bin price, likely on another one-year deal. However, he ultimately chose the Kansas City Chiefs as his next destination, with the option of catching passes from either Mitch Trubisky or Patrick Mahomes likely playing a part. James Washington’s departure was writing on the wall from last season, as he was unhappy with his playing time, and return man extraordinaire Ray-Ray McCloud took his talents to the Bay Area, signing with the 49ers. This leaves the team’s depth chart perilously thin, and if an injury were to occur to either Chase Claypool or Pro Bowler Diontae Johnson, it would be a problem area in very short order.
Many will pigeonhole the team into drafting a quarterback, and for good reason, with last week’s QB Pro Day visits revealing them scoping out each of the top prospects. Their flirtation with Liberty’s Malik Willis is well-documented. Is it a smokescreen to hide their affinity for another prospect? We’ll find out one month from today, but the latest mock draft from CBS Sports likely had the same aforementioned “receiver-needy” thought process in mind with their latest offering of Arkansas’ Treylon Burks with the 20th pick.
A mismatch nightmare at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, the former four-star recruit put on a show this past season, catching 66 balls for 1,104 yards and 11 TD’s, including a school-record six 100-yard games. He routinely played bully-ball with opposing SEC secondaries, a conference who is widely considered the gold standard when it comes to competition. CBS Sports had this to say regarding their selection:
Burks is a contested and high-point catch machine. Don’t be fooled by his 4.55 40 at the combine — he regularly outran defensive backs to the end zone in the SEC, and that won’t change in the NFL. The scariest part of his game is that he’s not even close to his ceiling yet, and what better way to get there than in Pittsburgh. He reminds us of some combination of Anquan Boldin, JuJu Smith-Schuster and A.J. Brown. The Steelers just lost Smith-Schuster and James Washington in free agency, and they’ll need to add some WRs in the draft. Burks isn’t a bad place to start.
Their mentioning of his 4.55 40-yard time is a reason Burks has slid down the draft boards of some teams. However, his destruction of SEC secondaries should not be discounted, as highlighted by his 179-yard, two-touchdown performance versus perennial powerhouse Alabama, who annually boasts a collection of talent unrivaled by nearly anyone. Some of the athletes in the SEC are world class, and Burks always seemed to be faster than the guys chasing him.
Upon first glance, a pro comparison simply from a size/speed standpoint is the Tennessee Titans’ Brown, who frequently boxes out defenders. Burks also has elite ball tracking skills, perhaps stemming from his high school days as an all-state outfielder in baseball. His size, strength and explosiveness all stick out, and an AFC executive had the following to say about him, according to NFL.com.
“He’s such a natural athlete for being so big but that’s what we usually see from guys who play three sports in high school. They learn to move differently than football-only guys.”
Adding a talent like Burks to the receiving corps would no doubt put a smile on the face of Trubisky, or whomever is throwing passes in the 2022 season and beyond. However, with a known penchant for finding “diamond in the rough” receivers in the middle-to-late rounds, is this more of a luxury pick for the team in Round 1? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.