In the 2019 draft class, it’s just about a unanimous belief that LSU’s Devin White is the No. 1 off-ball linebacker prospect. I say “just about” because at least one draftnik has another linebacker ranked even higher than White.
That draftnik is Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports, and that linebacker is Ben Burr-Kirven of Washington, a 6’0″, 230-pounder who piled up a staggering 176 total tackles for the Huskies in 2018—the most in FBS and the most any player has had since Luke Kuechly posted 191 in his last year at Boston College in 2011.
“You won’t see Burr-Kirven ranked anywhere as close to this high anywhere else on the interwebs,” Trapasso allowed. “And that’s fine by me. 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. He’s a twitchy, refined second-level defender ideally suited for the modern-day NFL.”
Burr-Kirven is admittedly small—especially by inside linebacker standards. But he told SB Nation’s Alex Kirshner that he doesn’t see his lack of size as an impediment in today’s pass-wacky era of spread offenses.
“It’s not the days of the 6’4, 250 linebackers as much anymore,” Burr-Kirven said. “You see safeties who are converting to linebacker, that kind of stuff. I definitely think I’m coming to the league at the right time, where there really is a place for me to play and a position that is now being filled with guys that look more like me, rather than the old monsters of the olden days.”
Per Benjamin Solak of the Draft Network, it’s not that hard to see how Burr-Kirven amassed all those stops—he played like his hair was on fire. “A bat outta hell in terms of explosiveness and physicality,” he wrote. “Fires into oncoming blockers with great speed-to-power conversion. Uses his hands to win the chest plate and displace players over 100+ pounds heavier than he is. Explosiveness and physicality also allow him to rip through gaps when attack the backfield, which adds to his disruptive ability. Plays excellent reps as the overhang defender against screens and jets, as he can cover distance quickly and typically takes good angles downhill to the football. Does well to key the run first from overhang alignment while still staying connected to the potential passing concept; loves to get an early and aggressive jump on the blocking scheme. Has to be proactive attacking blockers given size constraints.”
However, colleague Joe Marino sees Burr-Kirven’s lack of size and strength as a massive (if not insurmountable) roadblock. “Burr-Kirven is a high-motor linebacker with marginal processing skills, a lack of functional strength and restrictive size,” Marino said. “With that said, his range and coverage skills give him some appeal, especially in today’s NFL. I think he can carve out a role on subpackages and special teams, but it’s hard to envision him as an NFL starter. His best fit comes as a 4-3 weakside linebacker where he can see ball-chase ball and take advantage of his range, hopefully avoiding contact in pursuit.”