FAIRFIELD – Michael Burton is one of only two fullbacks from all of college football who is participating in the NFL Scouting Combine this week.
Or is he?
Assigning the position label and its accompanying description as a lead-blocker to Burton is misleading, says former NFL fullback Darian Barnes, who has trained the Rutgers product for his moment in Indianapolis.
“I have trouble calling Mike just a fullback,” Barnes told Gannett New Jersey. “Mike is a complete player. He is a guy who can pass-block on third down. He has a good understanding of NFL pass protections. He has the best hands for a fullback that I have ever seen. He has receiver hands.”
In weighing that praise, consider that Barnes played with six-time Pro Bowler Mike Alstott and against Pro Bowler Richie Anderson, both of whom got more touches than most fullbacks. He sees a little of each of them in Burton.
“I think wherever he goes he is the kind of fullback that can steal some carries away from a tailback,” said Barnes, a Toms River native and the head coach at Colts Neck High School. “He can play in the NFL right away. I think he deserves to be drafted. But I think, more importantly, Mike is going to play in the NFL for a long time because he can do a lot of different things.”\
The Combine is the second step toward the NFL Draft for Burton, who played in the Medal of Honor Bowl all-star game along with former Rutgers teammate Gary Nova in early January. Since then, the 6-foot, 230-pound Burton and Nova have been training with BMartin Sports at Parabolic Performance and Rehabilitation.
“I’m ready to go out there and compete with some of the best college football players in the country,” Burton said. “I kind of was a little bit (surprised to be invited). I was just really excited. It’s a step closer to my dream.”
Burton was most valuable at Rutgers for his ability to pave the way for a 2,000-yard rushing attack. In three-plus years as a starter, one of which was cut short by an ankle injury, Burton only totaled 22 carries for 116 yards – with a career-long of 38 on a fake punt – and 47 catches for 401 yards.
But he still has some of the form from his 4,498 career all-purpose yards at West Morris High School.
“There are two things I like. If you’re going to be a fullback in the NFL, you have to be a tough guy. And he is a tough guy, and he’s been a lead-blocker,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said during a conference call. “I think he also catches the football and that’s important. I don’t really care about him as a runner, but he’s got to be able on play-action to sneak out in the flat and catch it, which he does.”
Burton, who will be joined at the Combine by former Rutgers tight end Tyler Kroft, will try his hand at the 40-yard dash, shuttle run, three-cone drill, bench press, vertical jump and broad jump with hopes of breaking into the draft’s later rounds. Only three fullbacks were drafted last season.
“I watch it every year because I love football,” Burton said. “I have a good grasp on what the drills are going to be like. I can carry a lot over from all the great stuff the coaches taught me at Rutgers.”
Burton, a Rutgers captain as a redshirt senior, was always known as a workaholic in Piscataway and hasn’t taken a step back now that he is at “probably the most critical moment of his life,” says Barnes.
“The best part about Mike is that he is coachable,” Barnes said. “You only have to tell Mike one or two times how something works in order for him to understand it and do it the right way. That’s a big thing in the NFL. Can you learn from your mistakes and can you do it fast? Mike definitely can do that.”
Burton will arrive Wednesday and is scheduled to do on-field drills with the rest of the running backs Saturday on NFL Network.
“I have three or four years worth of film so they can study that, so I think they just want to see speed and an ability to catch the ball,” Burton said. “I think the interview process is very important as well. You want to make sure you say the right things. I feel comfortable in that aspect of it.”
Staff Writer Ryan Dunleavy: firstname.lastname@example.org