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2018 Rewind Study: Trey Burton (How Strong a TE1 Candidate Is He?)

Date:
June 19, 2018 9:29 PM
April 18, 2018 8:00 AM
— Our offseason ‘Rewind’ reports are where we look at an individual player’s previous season(s) of work–analyzing and researching it for clues on whether it was a ‘blip’ performance, or signs of future greatness…or signs of a mega-bust approaching. We try to do two per week in the offseason. —

-- Our offseason 'Rewind' reports are where we look at an individual player's previous season(s) of work--analyzing and researching it for clues on whether it was a 'blip' performance, or signs of future greatness...or signs of a mega-bust approaching. We try to do about one per week in the offseason post-NFL Draft. --

Feels pretty good today, doesn’t it? That statement was directed at a chunk of the Fantasy Football Metrics audience from the past year or two as it pertains to Trey Burton.

We’ve been eyeballing Trey Burton as a potential impact starting tight end in the NFL… Another Jordan Reed-like tight end weapon – one going to waste buried in Philadelphia behind Zach Ertz.

Love for Burton was all talk and no action early in his career, but then it was pushed into action off an Ertz injury in late 2016 and he had a nice run of productivity in his brief opportunity. That baited the hook. All the bark finally had some bite to it.

Similarly, in 2017, Burton was thrust into action for a few games off another Ertz minor injury, and yet again Burton came through with Fantasy numbers. It seems like every time Burton got the opportunity, he was producing somewhat like Ertz.

For two years we’ve been yammering about Burton’s athleticism and his Jordan Reed-like profile…

6’2-1”/224, 4.62 40-time, 1.62 10-yard, 4.32 shuttle, 7.14 three-cone = Burton (2014 Combine)

6’2-4”/236, 4.72 40-time, 1.66 10-yard, DNP shuttle and three-cone = Reed (2013 Combine)

 

Both entered college with the Florida Gators as quarterbacks and were eventually moved to WR/TE…

79 catches, 945 yards, 6 TDs receiving, 328 yards/5 TDs rushing = Reed (36 college games)

107 catches, 976 yards, 4 TDs receiving, 720 yards rushing/16 TDs = Burton (50 college games)

 *Burton also had a 6 TD game as a freshman…5 rushing scores and caught a TD pass versus Kentucky.

 

Along with the Jordan Reed comparisons we were on the countdown until Burton hit free agency. Many of you reading this started stashing Burton over a year ago. Some of you stashed him with just weeks left in the 2017 season…as we kept promoting/anticipating his 2018 free agency.

Once free agency finally arrived, those of us holding Burton in dynasty leagues held our breath to see how he landed in March 2018. When we found out it was the Chicago Bears – we all kind of broke into a happy dance. The football community at-large wasn’t as excited. You see, THEY think Mitchell Trubisky is probably terrible and they have subtly undermined him since his NFL Draft season last year. They didn’t understand how a guy started one year at North Carolina could be the best quarterback in the draft…many of them preferring the illustrious DeShone Kizer.

Once Trubisky put up weak fantasy numbers in his debut last season, it just confirmed what the group-think was already group-thinking. Subscribers of College Football Metrics and Fantasy Football Metrics knew to think otherwise. Trubisky is going to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and Trey Burton just landed in Chicago to play along with him, and in an offense that will be a lot more radical than what Jeff Fisher, I mean John Fox, ran into the ground the season prior. We’re as excited about Burton getting a real chance as we are that he’s getting the chance with Trubisky – honestly, I’m not sure the Trubisky part isn’t giving us more excitement.

Whatever the reason, most Burton holders reading this likely made a very cheap investment in the past 3-24 months to sit on this asset. You bought in at rock-bottom prices and you woke up last month with a burgeoning TE1 candidate.

We’re all excited. We are all hopeful.

As with most things fantasy, our joy is never sustained. The stock we bought for $1 just went to $10, and now we’re worried if Allen Robinson and friends are going to take too much of the opportunity away and push Burton to more of a backend TE1 than possible top 5 tight end scoring threat. It’s a legit concern.

In my own euphoria over this, my $1 stock suddenly jumping up to $10… I’ve spent most of the time patting myself on the back for this great move. And then it hit me the other day… Why am I really this excited about Trey Burton for fantasy 2018? Am I just excited that I took an investment in a nobody and turned it into a somebody…or is there some real fantasy gold about to happen here? This is still a great investment if Burton is the #10 fantasy tight end in 2018. My cost basis to get here was so low I can’t complain, but that’s not what needs to be focused/celebrated right now; that time is over. I need to examine how excited I should be. Is Burton set up to be a top five fantasy tight end or a nice, boring #10–12 solid-but-not-thrilling fantasy TE option?

I knew what I had to do – go back through and watch Burton’s performances in 2016 and 2017, the spots when he was given the opportunity. I needed to reacquaint myself with what was happening and why I was excited in the first place – or did I make a little more of this that I should have. Am I more in love with the nobody to somebody part of my Burton fantasy-journey…and glossing over whether he can go from somebody to excellent for Fantasy? It’s time to hit the tape…

Here's the problem with ‘hitting the tape’…he’s barely played tight end, as a starter, in the NFL. He has like 5-6 games you can sink your teeth into, but then 2-3 of those are like Ertz getting hurt midgame/midweek and Burton jumping in. No one really knows what a Trey Burton, purposeful starter, defense preparing…offense preparing, week after week, really looks like.

The only perspective I can give is from watching those 2-3 games from each season (2016-2017) and trying to get a feel. I’m not sure I can do the situation justice from a handful of unusual circumstance games.

You can’t go back to his college days either. In 2010, as a freshman at Florida…as a QB/RB, he ran for 349 yards and 11 TDs. He worked more as an RB/FB in 2011-12, with limited results. He worked as a WR/TE his senior year – 38 catches for 445 yards and 1 TD. Three QBs combined for 11 TD passes that season…so, no way to tell how good a tight end talent Burton really is from his college work.

Burton then entered the NFL as a UDFA for Chip Kelly back in 2014…he made the Eagles as an FB/H-back and was the only RB available one particular game -- taking 5 carries for 10 yards in a Week 6 effort. In 2015, he saw sparse work as an FB/TE…3 catches/4 targets for the season.

Doug Pederson comes along in 2016, Zach Ertz misses Week 2 and Burton steps up with 5 catches for 49 yards and a TD. As Ertz returned, Burton played sparingly…until Ertz went down again late in the season and Burton popped in with 5 catch and 7 catch game in Weeks 13-14. Burton was once again a backup in 2017, but when Ertz got a concussion later in the season and missed 2 games…Burton jumped in with a 4 catch game and then a 5 catch/2 TD effort.

Every time Burton got an opportunity -- things seemed to happen in the box score.

Burton saw 5 or more targets in a game eight times the past two seasons and his tally from that -- 35 catches, 301 yards, 3 TDs in 8 games, double that for a full season look – 70 catches, 601 yards, 6 TDs…6.1 FF PPG (10.4 PPR). Back end top 10/TE1 type PPR trends.

But all that activity was somewhat by mistake…by being thrust into the lineup on short/no notice…on a team that likes throwing to the TE.

What’s going to happen with him on the Bears as a purposeful starter?

Who knows?

New coach…one who barely got to call plays ever in KC. A new O-C to the NFL from up-tempo college offenses (who worked with Kelly and would have received inside Burton info from him before signing). A great, developing young QB. More talent surrounding the QB at the skill positions than the Eagles could ever dream of – giving the developing star QB plenty of options. Where does Trey Burton fit for Mitchell Trubisky? What does the offensive coordinator like to do with a ‘move’ tight end? We don’t know…we can only speculate. 

We know the new head coach likes him some Travis Kelce and has spoken of Burton as his Kelce…which is nice, but this is a much different landscape than the one in KC. However, Nagy is already on record saying what a great mismatch Burton is…and went into to detail on that. The preseason talk is encouraging for Burton. I’ve not seen much mention of high-pick TE Adam Shaheen by the new head coach…and something pushed Matt Nagy to go pay big for Burton.

But what do we really have from Burton? How excited should we get? I put on the tape of a few games where he saw a lot of action in 2016 and 2017, and I walked away going…”OK, not bad. That’s pretty good.” I didn’t jump out of my seat with excitement. I didn’t hang my head in shame. I didn’t see any ‘wow’. I didn’t see any ‘Ohno’. Burton is a little faster/quicker-than-average TE. He knows how to get open in man or squatting in pockets of a zone. He has pretty good hands. He’s tough after the catch…he can take a hit and maintain the possession.

He wasn’t outrunning or out-leaping or dazzling anyone on tape…he was just good/solid – getting open, making catches, taking and delivering hits.

We have a good/solid TE talent, not a great one, working in an offense loaded with weapons and Burton likely to be one of the better/more used options because of the mismatches he creates a la Jordan Reed.

So, what are we talking here?

3-6 catches a game? Seems reasonable he’d catch 4-5 passes a game in this new Bears offense. As a rare starter for Philly, he usually found his way to 4-5+ catches in a game.

40-60 yards per game off those catches? He has good movement skills. The X-factor being if Burton even gets open in a mismatch by a hair, Trubisky is going to hit him in perfect harmony and allow him nice catch and runs in their time together. Trubisky is one of the most accurate QBs I’ve ever scouted, pro or college.

TDs are where we have to stop and pause…the difference between Burton as a Top 3-5 TE1 or a #8-12 TE1 -- how many TDs in a season are logical to expect from Burton? It’s an above-average year if a starting TE hits 5-6 TDs in a season. Only six TEs booked 7 or more scores last season. Not one of them under 6’4” tall (Burton is 6’2”). That’s the problem for Burton…he’s shorter with a limited vertical. He has Allen Robinson on the team/great worker in the end zone…he also has 6’5”+ Adam Shaheen, a tight end on the roster, who could come in on red zone plays. I think 5 TDs may be more reasonable than 6+ TDs in year one.

So, 4.5 catches and 50.0 yards per game with 5.5 TDs in a season???

7.1 non-PPR PPG? A number that would have put him tied with Jimmy Graham for #5 among non-PPR TEs last season.

11.6 PPR PPG? A number that would have put him #5 among fantasy TEs in 2017

I think it’s logical to get FF-excited about Burton…as much for his ‘move’ skills/mismatch potential as well as his landing spot that seems to be brimming with up-tempo offensive vibes. He’s not the greatest TE talent ever, but he’s good…and the Bears sunk a lot of money here. What adds the juice is him landing with the Bears/Trubisky…we’re all really betting on the Bears new coaching staff and QB as much as on Burton himself.

The floor is top 12/TE1.

The ceiling is top 3/TE1, but very doubtful he’s a shock #1 TE. He’s more likely to float #4-8 overall. Either way, my former $1 stock looks pretty promising for 2018.

I’d still rather have Evan Engram.

If Gronk falls down. If Jordan Reed never returns to prominence. If Travis Kelce suffers a bit without Alex Smith (because Pat Mahomes works WRs and RBs more than TE). If Jimmy Graham is never again returning to his glory days. If Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard are going to knock each other out… Someone has to step up among the tight ends for fantasy…all the ‘green lights’ seem to favor Trey Burton. Get excited!

But not too excited.

We need to see him in action this preseason to get the excitement ramped even higher…

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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

Email rc4metrics@gmail.com

Learn more about RC and the Fantasy Football Metrics system >>