When the Tennessee Titans drafted Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft — shortly after trading A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles — reviews were mixed. Despite running away from secondaries in the SEC during his final year with the Razorbacks, a 4.55-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis led some analysts to believe that he was too slow to be a true vertical threat on NFL Sundays.
The fact that Burks was running away from those secondaries, and running that 40-yard dash, while weighing 255 pounds seemed to be ignored in that analysis, but that is a discussion for another time.
For many, however, Burks seemed like the ideal Brown replacement. During the draft process, Brown was a common player comparison for the Arkansas receiver.
His NFL career, however, got off to a slower start than Titans fans were hoping for. Burks, who suffers from asthma, dealt with “breathing related issues” during the team’s rookie minicamp. But he was ready for the start of training camp, having worked on his conditioning, and how to handle his asthma, over the summer.
But then he suffered a wrist injury during the Titans’ first preseason game, which caused him to miss time during training camp. He returned as camp wound down, and was in the lineup in Week 1, but only saw 16 targets over his first four NFL games.
Burks returned to the Titans last week, in Tennessee’s 17-10 win over the Denver Broncos. But the performance Titans fans — and perhaps those analysts that predicted NFL success for him — were waiting to see came on Thursday night. Against the Green Bay Packers, Burks hauled in a career-best 7 passes for 111 yards.
But it was what he did on two plays in particular that speaks to the kind of game-breaking threat he can be in the NFL.
The first big play came on Tennessee’s opening drive of the game. With the Titans facing a 3rd and 7 on their own 20-yard line, they were in danger of opening the contest with a three-and-out.
Burks aligns as the middle receiver in the trips formation to the left, and runs a deep post route. The defender covering him plays with inside leverage, so the rookie does a good job of getting over the top of the defensive back. But as he is working across the field, Tannehill’s throw is to his upfield shoulder, forcing Burks to adjust vertically.
Which he does to perfection:
Not only does Burks adjust his path perfectly, but he is able to track this throw over his shoulder, while cornerback Keisean Nixon tries in vain to rake his arms and knock the ball away.
The huge gain sets the Titans up in Packers’ territory, and they would finish the drive with a touchdown to take an early 7-0 lead on the road.
However, the play that might illustrate best Burks’ ability to stress defenses in the vertical passing game came in the second half. With the Titans facing a 1st and 10 with just over two minutes remaining, and holding a ten-point lead, they went for the knockout punch.
Using a jumbo “13” personnel package, with two tight ends in the game along with an extra tackle, Le’Raven Clark, aligned as a tight end, the Titans used play-action to put the ball in the air. Burks, the only wide receiver in the game, runs a go route against Jaire Alexander.
Watch as Burks erases the presnap cushion, and works right past Alexander for the huge gain:
The rookie’s combination of size, speed, and strength stands out on this play. First, he has the straight-line speed to erase Alexander’s cushion. But once he works past the cornerback, Burks uses his frame — and his strength — to stack the defender and shield him away from the football.
He finishes the play by making the reception, and dragging Alexander for about ten more yards to set the Titans up with first-and-goal.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill would run out the clock with three-straight kneel downs.
These two plays highlight just how dangerous Burks can be in the vertical passing game. His combination of size, speed, and strength makes him a threat on downfield throws. For an offense like Tennessee’s, built around Derrick Henry, the play-action passing game, and explosive shot plays downfield off of play-action, Burks seemed like the ideal fit coming out of Arkansas.
His performance against the Packers makes that seem even more likely.