The Seattle Seahawks retained both K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks in free agency earlier this offseason, but that didn’t stop them from similarly doubling down at the position in the draft. After selecting Utah linebacker Cody Barton on day two, the Seahawks added Washington LB Ben Burr-Kirven on the third day of the draft, with their one and only fifth round selection.
Like Barton—and almost all of this year’s linebacker class—Burr-Kirven has shortcomings as it relates to Seattle’s mold at linebacker. Though he clears almost all of their thresholds, he does come up considerably short in the vertical jump, a threshold that was once thought of as a non-starter. Short vertical jump aside, the pre-draft process was a huge win for Burr-Kirven, who tested in the 84th percentile.
Where Burr-Kirven Wins
Burr-Kirven, and Barton, are exactly the type of day three linebackers worth taking a chance on. They flow to the football extremely well, their instincts are clear, and most importantly, they’re athletic. Burr-Kirven rarely takes false steps and consistently arrives to the football on time; combined with his movement skills, which can enable him to survive in coverage, he could be a player for the future.
Love the Ben Burr-Kirven pick by the Seahawks. Shop local!— Thor Nystrom (@thorku) April 27, 2019
6’0/230, 84th-percentile athlete, insanely productive. Flies around the field. My No. 100 overall prospect. pic.twitter.com/1lyDKYVkjL
Where Burr-Kirven Loses
The similarities between Barton and Burr-Kirven continue here. At just 230 pounds, Burr-Kirven is slight for the position—not necessarily a bad thing in today’s NFL, and certainly not a deal-breaker. Ask him to sort through traffic and get off blocks in-tight, and he will struggle. Luckily, the game isn’t played in-tight anymore.
Year One Role
The Seahawks entered the 2018 NFL Draft in bad shape for the future at linebacker. They’ll enter the 2019 season in much better shape. Bobby Wagner, Wright and Kendricks are in place; Austin Calitro and Shaquem Griffin are key special teamers; and Burr-Kirven and Barton are interesting pieces for the future. (Barkevious Mingo’s status is unclear.) Burr-Kirven’s path to the field as a rookie is on special teams, and he knows it.
Burr-Kirven says he knows he will have to "do the dirty work'' to earn a spot on special teams first.— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) April 27, 2019
Best Case Scenario
In the Rams, 49ers and Cardinals, Seattle has three divisional opponents led by offensive coaches who thrive on getting their playmakers in space, stretching defenses both across and down the field. In Barton and Burr-Kirven, the Seahawks have two young linebackers made for the modern game. If Burr-Kirven can refine his play and awareness in coverage, he could be in the competition to start in 2020.
Worst Case Scenario
There’s a pretty safe floor with a fifth round pick like Burr-Kirven. Even if size hinders him, or he never develops the ability in coverage to survive as an every down linebacker, he should be a very steady presence on special teams. That contribution, on a cheap four-year deal, isn’t a terrible worst case.
The return of Wright and Kendricks bought Seattle a little bit of time, and allowed them to look a little later in the draft for depth at linebacker. They eventually did just that, and in Burr-Kirven, it’s a second depth piece who, like Barton, has a highly intriguing ceiling.