Tough. Strong Hands. Swagger. Those are common words often associated with San Francisco 49ers rookie sixth-round pick (No. 213) WR Aaron Burbridge. A competitive drive that doesn’t go unnoticed, Burbridge has been quite the surprise so far this off-season. From the team’s first rookie minicamp to today’s conclusion of OTAs, Burbridge is starting to make some noise from Levi’s Stadium.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) June 2, 2016
“The thing that jumps out at you is he [Burbridge] has really strong hands. He’s a really good catcher of the football. So, that jumps out at you immediately,” 49ers OC Curtis Modkins told me in his first press conference. And the new offensive coordinator was not playing around.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) May 7, 2016
During the team’s first rookie minicamp, Burbridge easily displayed the sure hands, short-area quickness, and precise route-running that NFL scouts covet. This was first evident in the team’s individual drills. A featured drill that has the player first work on their route-running fundamentals (sticking their outside foot in the ground before making their cut), Burbridge does this to perfection while then adjusting to a poorly thrown ball. (watch video above)
49ers WRC Bob Bicknell came away very impressed with the effort, praising his sixth-round pick, “Good. Good job,” Bicknell said.
But adjusting to a poorly thrown ball is just a small glimpse of Burbridge’s potential. For comparison purposes, just watch my video below and you can see the big difference in Burbridge from teammate WR Eric Rogers in regards to coming out of their stem on a hitch-route. One looks explosive and fluid (13) while the other appeared slow and choppy (3).
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) May 7, 2016
However, route-running was never Burbridge’s weakness but rather his strength. It’s his inability to get off the line of scrimmage under press coverage that had scouts worried. Good thing, Coach Bicknell seems to be coaching that up. Watch my instagram video below and you can see Burbridge working on that very technique.
A video posted by Ryan Sakamoto 🏈 (@sakamotoryan_) on
But where does Burbridge fit in? Will he actually make the 53-man roster? The answer is yes. In the end, I believe the 49ers will keep six wide receivers; WR Torrey Smith, WR Quinton Patton, WR Bruce Ellington, WR DeAndre Smelter, Rogers and Burbridge.
So far, Burbridge has been playing exclusively at flanker (strong-side) along with Smith, WR Jerome Simpson, WR DiAndre Campbell, and Smelter. While the slot role has been a three-man rotation between Ellington, WR DeAndrew White, and WR Bryce Treggs.
Expect Burbridge to enter the slot role sweepstakes once training camp roles around.
If 49ers HC Chip Kelly stays true to his philosophy in putting his players in the best position to make plays, expect Burbridge to relish a slot role. Why? Because his skill set is best suited for the position, despite playing strictly outside at Michigan State.
“I did very little slot work at Michigan State,” Burbridge said on draft day. “A lot of teams in the NFL talked to me about playing in the slot. So, I guess I’m a slot receiver. I can do both.”
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) May 6, 2016
Burbridge is at his best using the short-to-intermediate passing game, so why not plug-and-play him there? He’s not afraid to mix it up with physical press-corners. He has the defensive mentality and heart to go across the middle willingly ala WR Anquan Boldin. And his ability to separate from cornerbacks by using the stack technique on seam routes make for a match made in heaven.
Not one to be short on confidence, Burbridge had no hesitation in his voice when asked if he could fill Boldin’s shoes. “Yeah, most definitely. I feel like I can step in his shoes and fill that void,” Burbridge said. So, I feel like I can be very productive and win games up in San Francisco [Levi’s Stadium].”
Whether or not, Kelly will go this route remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure. Burbridge is on the rise and looking to make a splash his rookie season.
As the 49ers try to shore up one of their weakest links, I will keep you updated on their progress as the wide receivers continue to be a point of emphasis for me.
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