Coming in at 5'10", 188 pounds, Isaiah Burse was passed over in the draft but had interest from a few teams as an college free agent. He specifically chose the Denver Broncos because of the team's intense interest in him and his special teams skills. Matthew Kenerly from the Mountain West Connection explains how this elusive receiver and cagey punt returner could just make the 53-man roster.
MHR - In your pre-draft scouting report, you mentioned that Isaiah Burse was elusive with an ability to suddenly change directions, but that ability didn't always mean he could pull away from defenders. Also, that some of his production was dependent on a lot of screen plays. Given that review, how do you see Burse's potential for not just making the roster but faring in the NFL?
Matt - I took a cursory look at Denver's roster, and judging by the number of receivers I saw, he's going to have work to do to make the cut on such a loaded team. Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker are the no-brainers, and then you also have to consider the team has invested some in Andre Caldwell and Cody Latimer. The one advantage that he possesses is his experience as a kick returner, as I'd imagine they want to keep Sanders out of harm's way and in the starting lineup. That's his most likely route to an NFL job for now.
MHR - At least one undrafted free agent has signed with the Denver Broncos every year for the last 10. What skills and qualities about Burse make it possible for him to be one of those UDFAs who signs? Do you think he is a good fit for the Broncos' offense? For Peyton Manning?
Matt - The offensive system employed by Dave Schramm at Fresno State was very receiver-friendly - that can't be ignored - but the upside is contemplating that Denver has a similarly rewarding attack for those wideouts who put in the work. Burse knows the physical demands of an up-tempo, no-huddle offense. He knows how to operate within a pick play. I believe he possesses the upside to be a role player for Manning, not unlike Austin Collie, who was another guy that did not have blazing speed but was smart and quick and tough.
MHR - Joining a team with a stacked wide receiver depth chart isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean standing out could be that much more difficult. How important do you think his Special Teams skills will be for earning a place on the roster? And what ST skill are you most excited about?
Matt - I think that success in the return game could make all the difference in Burse winning a roster spot. If you remove the team's three kick return touchdowns from the overall numbers, the Broncos were a below-average unit in 2013. The advanced numbers may have something different to say and, generally speaking, the offense didn't seem fazed by the shortcoming all that much, but there's no disputing that Trindon Holliday chose poorly on more than one occasion in the Super Bowl. Burse won't need to be an All-Pro immediately to make a positive impact.
MHR - Burse has mentioned current wide receiver Wes Welker as a role model for him. The two are similar in size and abilities. What do you think Welker can teach Burse that will help him succeed in the NFL?
Matt - Aside from being a perfect example of Pro Bowl-caliber work ethic, Welker can help Burse learn how to fight through press coverage because Burse will never be the most physically imposing athlete. It will require getting stronger and working smarter. I also believe he can learn a lot about identifying soft spots in zone coverage; the gains from bubble screens and the like are much slighter in the professional ranks, so while that was Burse's bread and butter in Fresno, he will need to diversify.
MHR - Burse had a lot of instability at home growing up, which led one of his high school coaches to take him in. How do you think his home circumstances could help when it comes to fighting for a roster spot?
Matt - We all know that football is an unforgiving sport, but there have been plenty of players who have turned unforgiving circumstances in the real world into a personal blessing. Burse is definitely one of those guys because he seized the advantage that was given to him to the extent that he was named California's Small School Player of the Year in 2009 by MaxPreps. That preceded his arrival at Fresno State, but then he outperformed Jalen Saunders as a kickoff returner his freshman year, finished in the top 10 nationally in all-purpose yards his sophomore year and was arguably the best player on the field when the Bulldogs clinched their first outright conference title in 25 years last December. You could say that he's never stopped paying it forward, and I would agree with you.
MHR - The Modesto Christian assistant coach who took him in - Mark Dobbins - said Burse is a "quiet, humble kid who would lead by example." In a day when many pro football players are all about the splash, the Twitter popularity and the media time, how does a young player like Burse keep that quality and maintain focus on playing better?
Matt - You may have already noticed that Isaiah Burse does not have a Twitter account, so the praise and the venom that are heaped upon athletes by fans and detractors are falling on deaf (or at least distant) ears. I think that having experience within an even-keeled locker room, along with other outstanding character guys like Derek Carr and Marcel Jensen, will also serve him well on a Broncos team where the man under center is one of the strongest leaders in the game.