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Scouting Jets wide receiver Deontay Burnett

Arizona State v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

On Saturday afternoon, the Jets activated rookie wide receiver Deontay Burnett from their practice squad, so we’re going to take an in-depth look at what he brings to the table.

The 21-year-old Burnett is listed at 6-foot-0 and 170 pounds, and was undrafted out of USC, where he had been one of Sam Darnold’s main pass catching weapons. He was an All-Pac-12 second-teamer last season as he caught a career-high 86 passes for over 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns. Burnett was with the Titans in preseason but released in final cuts.


Burnett wasn’t a highly sought-after prospect coming out of high school and was originally set to attend Washington State before deciding to try and make it onto his hometown USC team via a blue-shirt scholarship.

Having made a good initial impression, he was able to stick around, seeing action as a true freshman and recording 10 catches.

In his sophomore season, Burnett stepped up and ended the season as the starting slot receiver for the last five games. He ended up with 56 catches for 622 yards and seven touchdowns. That was highlighted by an epic performance at the Rose Bowl, which saw him catch 13 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns, including a late one to tie to score.

As a full-time starter in 2017, he would emerge as Sam Darnold’s favorite target, racking up 86 catches, 1,114 yards and nine scores.

Having opted to enter the draft early, Burnett was unable to work out at the scouting combine and ended up going undrafted despite having been rated as a mid-round pick by many experts.

The Titans signed Burnett as an undrafted free agent and he led them in preseason with 11 catches. However, he didn’t make their final roster and opted to sign for the Jets’ practice squad after clearing waivers. Burnett was actually released from the squad in late September but then was re-added four days later. He is now being added to the 53-man roster due to the fact that both Terrelle Pryor and Quincy Enunwa were injured on Sunday.

Let’s move onto some further analysis of what Burnett brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.


Burnett is very small. He measured just under six feet tall at the combine but has a thin frame and, at 170 pounds, would be the lightest player on the roster. He’s also very young as he was still 20 when he originally signed for the Titans and was the second youngest prospect to attend the scouting combine this year.

While he displays some quickness and acceleration on film, Burnett is not an elite athlete by any means. Unable to work out at the combine or his pro day, Burnett ran at 40-yard dash at the extra pro day USC held for himself and Ronald Jones but was only able to run a 4.7 as he claimed to still only be about 80 percent. He also posted a disappointing 30.5 inch vertical and a 121-inch broad jump, which is about average for the position.


Burnett does his best work from the slot, typically playing about 80 percent of the time there both at USC and in preseason action with the Titans.

He had 13 of his 16 career touchdowns with USC and nine of his 11 preseason catches with the Titans from the slot .

He has also lined up and caught the occasional pass out wide or from the backfield while at USC, but his lack of size means he’s not really an option to play outside much at the pro level.

Deep threat

Burnett was more of a possession receiver at USC as he lacked the elite straight line speed to be much of a deep threat. He did get open for a lot of downfield catches, but rarely blew by the defense to catch a pass over the top.

When he was able to get behind the defense, Burnett shows good ability to track the ball in the air and make over-the-shoulder catches.


Burnett is still developing as a route runner but has the quickness to be successful on simple slant and out type routes.

Scouts have described his routes as “smooth” and “slippery” and he was worked hard on improving his route running skills.

On this play, he sets his man up for the outside release and then breaks outside for the reception.


Burnett has been regarded as a sure-handed player. In preseason, his 11 receptions came on 11 targets. At USC, he posted a catch rate of 70 percent and only dropped five passes in three years.

Despite these impressive numbers, he has small hands and did have a few key drops on catchable passes, notably on passes that had a lot of zip on them.

Burnett will also help his quarterback out with some tough grabs though. He can contort his body to adjust to the ball, make catches in traffic and has a few diving catches and one-handed grabs on his highlight reel.

Here was a nice diving catch he made in preseason.

Red zone

Burnett didn’t score any touchdowns in preseason, but has a knack for finding open areas which contributed to his 16 touchdowns over the past two years. His chemistry with Darnold could be a factor close to the goal line.

Yards after the catch

Burnett is a solid possession receiver in terms of catching the ball and turning upfield for a few extra yards, but didn’t show much in terms of being able to break a tackle in preseason.

He did display some elusiveness at times in college and has a good nose for the goal line once he’s in the open field.


Due to his lack of size, you wouldn’t expect much in the way of blocking contributions from Burnett. However, he gives a good effort, as shown on this play.

Realistically, though, he’s going to be a liability if they require him to block at the NFL level. His technique isn’t great and he’s likely to get overpowered by the much stronger defenders he will face at this level. Here was one play he allowed to be blown up in preseason.


Despite his lack of size, Burnett has some good toughness and will fight for yardage or hang on to the ball if he takes a big hit.

However, he will struggle to get off press coverage and can be redirected on his routes or out-muscled at the catch point.

Burnett had three penalties in three years at USC.

Special Teams

Burnett didn’t play much on special teams in college, although he did return four punts for 26 yards. The Titans gave him a couple of chances to return punts in preseason but he was tackled immediately on the first and then this happened on the other one.

He might be a more reliable emergency option than Trenton Cannon though.


Burnett shows good instincts in terms of finding open spots in zone coverage and also improvising down the field once a play gets extended.

When he was at Tennessee, the Titans coaches praised his decision making on option routes, although the Jets don’t run many of those in their west coast offense.


Although he was the youngest player on their roster, the Titans praised Burnett’s maturity and professionalism during the offseason.

He apparently has an outstanding work ethic and displays excellent attention to detail when seeking to better himself.

Here’s an example of Burnett already having perfected the sideline technique under the stricter NFL rules, keeping both feet inbounds for this catch.


Burnett was hampered by a hamstring injury during the offseason and that was obviously a factor in him having gone undrafted. Otherwise, he hasn’t had many injury issues, although he had a minor shoulder injury last season.

Scheme Fit

With the links between Jeremy Bates and the Lane Kiffin coaching tree, there are definitely similarities between the Jets’ system and the one still employed at USC. Darnold’s progress underlines that fact.

If he sees action, that should help Burnett’s comfort level, as will his chemistry with Darnold and the fact that he’s already had several weeks to learn the system and some practice time this week with the first unit.


Burnett might end up just being on the roster in case of emergencies. If there are no further injuries, he might not see any action and will soon find himself back on the practice squad once either Pryor or Enunwa is ready to return.

However, the Jets are obviously not particularly high on Andre Roberts or Charone Peake as offensive players, so perhaps Burnett will get some chances to get on the field.

Longer term, his familiarity with Darnold gives Burnett a chance to be a developmental project over the next few years and the fact he’s still so young hopefully means there’s some untapped potential that could see him competing for a role if bulking up a little doesn’t compromise his quickness.