Brian Burns has massive shoes to fill with the Panthers

Carolina Panthers linebacker/defensive end Brian Burns jogs to practice on Friday, July 26, 2019, at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
Carolina Panthers linebacker/defensive end Brian Burns jogs to practice on Friday, July 26, 2019, at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS via Getty Images) /

The Panthers don’t expect Brian Burns to become a dominant force in year one, but they do need him to replace Julius Peppers in time. 

First round draft prospects always experience high expectations. The team that drafts them does so with the idea that they can become impact players in time. Brian Burns will experience even more pressure to become a star with the Panthers.

That’s because Carolina needs Burns to ultimately take over for Julius Peppers at defensive end. Taking over for a Hall-of-Famer is never an easy task. Replacing a star pass rusher who played the bulk of his career for his hometown team is an even larger mountain to climb.

Burns should take some comfort in the fact that Peppers wasn’t anything approximating a dominant force in 2018. He was second on the team in sacks last season, but he only got to the opposing quarterback five times. That modest total should represent an attainable goal for Burns during his rookie season.

The fact that the Panthers only had one player finish the 2018 campaign with more than five sacks also shows just how much Ron Rivera’s defense needs to generate more pressure off the edge. The fact that last year’s leading sack artist, Mario Addison, is back is certainly good news. However, trusting him to replicate last year’s total of nine sacks in his age 31 season might be a little optimistic.

That’s why GM Marty Hurney and his front office spent a lot of resources on strengthening their pass rush during the offseason. Spending a first round pick on Burns was just the tip of the iceberg. Carolina also spent a fourth round selection on Alabama star Christian Miller. He’s ticketed to begin his career at outside linebacker, but the Panthers selected him because of the edge rushing potential he showed in college.

The Panthers didn’t ignore their need for edge rushers in free agency either. Bruce Irvin may be nearing the end of his career, but he still has the ability to help the team as an edge rush specialist. The fact that he can play end and linebacker gives the Panthers’ defense some much-needed versatility.

There’s still no addition to the roster with as much upside as Burns. He’s the key to what the Panthers did this offseason to strengthen their pass rush. If he doesn’t produce a solid rookie season it’s going to be a major disappointment to both the coaching staff and front office.

Fortunately for Burns, the way Carolina plans to use him this season should really suit his strengths as a player. Rivera is determined to transition his squad from a base 4-3 defense to a much more unpredictable 3-4 look. That defensive philosophy is going to allow Burns to function as an edge rusher on almost every snap. Carolina’s talented three-man front will be expected to halt the opposing ground game.

That’s going to make the game very simple for Burns in his rookie season. More often than not, his charge is going to be to crash in from the edge and wreak havoc in the offensive backfield. Anyone who watched Burns play at all during his Florida State career understands that’s when he’s at his best.

The good news for Panthers fans is that he’s already showing his ability to do that at the NFL level. No one should get too caught up in any single rep during training camp, but Burns is already turning heads in Carolina. The following clip is just a taste of what he has the potential to do for the Panthers defense this season.

The challenge for Burns this season will be to prove that he can give his team consistent reps. The flashes he showed at Florida State were truly exceptional. The mediocre nature of some of his other snaps allowed the Panthers to draft him all the way down at No. 16. That’s well below the normal draft range for an edge rusher with Burns’ potential.

Rivera and his staff desperately need for the franchise’s gamble on Burns to pay off. If he doesn’t become a legitimate threat off the edge this season then Carolina is going to really struggle to generate consistent pressure from the edge. That will put a ton of pressure on a secondary that has serious question marks at safety.

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If, on the other hand, Burns can develop into a double-digit sack artist then the Panthers will be poised to make a lot of news in the NFC South. All of the headlines in Carolina will be about Cam Newton’s health this preseason, but Burns’ development is another crucial issue for the team’s hopes of making a deep postseason run in 2019.