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NFL Draft Profile: Washington Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven

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Under Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio, Ben Burr-Kirven would be the steal of the 2019 NFL Draft.

NCAA Football: Washington at Washington State
If the Broncos need a coverage backer, Ben Burr-Kurven deserves consideration.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

One of the big questions facing the Broncos in the 2019 Draft is where they’ll address the needs on the roster if they go for a quarterback on Day 1. At Tight End this isn’t as concerning as the class looks deep enough to provide talent as late as Day 3. Things are a bit scarier at linebacker where there seems to be significant fall off after Devin White and Devin Bush.

Burr-Kirven is one of those guys with a bit of a cult following who could see a slide to Day 3 of the draft. He’s played in 47 games during his collegiate career and finished the 2018 season as a first-team Associated Press All-American and the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Award after leading the country with 176 total tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, six pass breakups, three fumble recoveries, and four forced fumbles. Those numbers accurately depict the impact he had on the Washington defense as he was always around the ball. Unfortunately, he also comes with one very clear weakness.

Burr-Kirven’s combination of instincts and athleticism pops off the tape.

Scouting Report

-His athleticism translates to pads. Looks sudden and agile.

-Very instinctive, he’s always around the ball.

-Reacts on the fly quickly.

-Reminds you of a firefly, never stops moving.

-Strong coverage player. Knows his job and responds to the QB.

-He tackles the ball. Forces fumbles.

-He looks small on tape. Did not play at 230 lbs.

-An effective tackler, but not a violent one.

What I’ve heard/read

NFL Draft & Combine Profile - Ben Burr-Kirven | NFL.com

Small, hyper-instinctive linebacker who plays with “clear eyes, full heart” and consistently punches above his weight class for production totals that contradict his size. Unfortunately, size does matter -- especially in the middle of a defense -- and he might be too maxed out to add necessary mass. However, instincts and willful demeanor are traits required for outliers and Burr-Kirven has a chance to be just that kind of outlier as a backup linebacker and special teams demon.

2019 NFL Draft: Ranking all 26 linebackers to know, from Ben Burr-Kirven to Dre Greenlaw - CBSSports.com

Burr-Kirven is a smaller linebacker, but in today’s NFL, I’d much rather my linebackers be in the 220-pound range than in the 240-plus round range if they’re around 6-foot-0. He’s an awesome block-shedder and sifts through traffic across the field better than any linebacker in the class.

While not an amazing, high-end athlete, he certainly can cover ground quickly to close on the football. In coverage, Burr-Kirven rapidly reacts to route concepts to limit yards after the catch or even break up the pass. The combine will either cement his status as my favorite linebacker prospect in this class or push him down a bit. Either way, he’s a twitchy, refined second-level defender ideally suited for the modern-day NFL.

Burr-Kirven was one of the best coverage backers in the country a year ago.

Why he fits

He’s the kind of guy that wins despite the negatives. One of the biggest strengths of his game is playing in space as he’s a natural coverage player and brings the kind of twitchy athleticism that Todd Davis and Josey Jewell don’t. While he’s definitely undersized he’s slippery, so blockers need to work to keep their hands on his jersey. He’s incredibly instinctive and active, both things that coaches love and could hone to turn him into a heat seeking missile at the professional level.

Why he doesn’t

He looks awfully small on tape. I tend to think the “undersized” label is overdone by scouts, but it fits Burr-Kirven. I suspect he’s never actually played at the 230lbs he brought to the Combine. I doubt he gets much bigger (if at all) without losing quickness, so what you see is probably what you get in that regard.

Washington had a massive defensive line and it protected him from blockers a good bit, but in a Fangio scheme that won’t be the case. He’ll have trouble with people getting into his body at the next level.

Final Thoughts

Every year there are players that come along and kind of worm their way into your heart. They become “your guys” and despite the odds, fit, or any other question you have, you find yourself rooting for them to succeed. Ben Burr-Kirven is one of those guys for me. He has the kind of film that will probably see him drafted on Day 3, but the things that flash are what “steals” are made of. He’s a hair’s-on-fire kind athlete that plays with so much heart you become a Husky fan when you’re watching his tape.

If the Broncos take him, I think his floor is a special teams ace provided he can stay healthy. The upside is much higher if only because he looks so active and quick on tape. I wonder how he’d fit in the Fangio scheme, but if he can reach his ceiling he’ll become one of those players an opposing offense actively needs to scheme around, even if he has a very clear weakness.

There’s reason to believe Burr-Kirven has a chance to flourish in the modern NFL.