In 2021, Ohio State Buckeyes CB Denzel Burke was a breakout star and, thus, an immediate inclusion in way-too-early 2024 NFL Draft mocks. In 2023, his first season of NFL Draft eligibility, where does Burke stand as an NFL prospect?
Denzel Burke Draft Profile and Measurements
- Height: 6’1″
- Weight: 192 pounds
- Position: Cornerback
- School: Ohio State
- Current Year: Junior
Burke was a two-way high school player who suffered a season-ending injury in his final season. That didn’t stop him from hitting the ground running as a starting cornerback at Ohio State in his true freshman season.
The talent was clear from Burke, who was a four-star recruit and a top-250 national prospect on multiple boards. However, Burke demolished expectations with a dominant 2021 campaign — one that saw him rack up 35 tackles, a pick, and 12 pass breakups.
Burke earned Freshman All-American honors and third-team All-Big Ten recognition for his play in 2021 but experienced a slight regression in 2022. Nevertheless, in 2023, he appears to be back to his best form.
Through the first four games, he has a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, an interception, and five pass deflections — and he’s looking like a Round 1 player.
Denzel Burke Scouting Report
- Has a lean frame with great length and a sizable disruption radius.
- Explodes out of his stance and accelerates effortlessly with powerful knee drive.
- Possesses excellent long-track explosive capacity when he’s able to expand his strides.
- Has enough long speed to prevent WRs from stacking when he’s able to match in-phase.
- Has the fluidity to undergo 180-degree transitions off the line and enter recovery upfield.
- Fleet-footed, hyper-active short-area mover who plays low, sudden, and free.
- Has sharp decelerative capacity at the top of routes, freely retracting his strides.
- Shows great patience and spatial awareness in short and intermediate zones.
- Can effectively key in on WR’s hips on comebacks and react quickly to route breaks.
- Shows off superb reaction to stimulus when matching WRs in press at the line.
- Physical CB who uses his length to gather, jam, and pass off receivers across zones.
- Former WR whose elite coordination, control, and ball skills translate as a playmaker.
- Brings urgent, combative energy in run support, and triggers downhill quickly.
- Has visibly improved his technical discipline and synergy in man coverage in 2023.
- Has a tight, efficient pedal in off-man and zone, and leverages routes very well.
- Lacks elite hip fluidity and can experience hitches when attempting to swivel and sink.
- Doesn’t quite have quantifiably elite recovery speed when receivers get a step on him.
- Occasionally relies on grabs to a fault when looking to recover past the five-yard mark.
- Still drifts a bit too tall at stems at times, limiting sink and recalibration quickness.
- At times, plants too early at stems and is rendered flat-footed, compensating with grabs.
- Can be baited into hesitating and over-setting by lateral moves and rocker steps.
- On occasion, goes for deflections when he has an opportunity to generate turnovers.
- Can be prone to missed tackles from time to time, grazing past his targets.
Current Draft Projection and Summary
Before the season, I needed to see more from Burke before I locked him into Round 1 range with Kool-Aid McKinstry, Cooper DeJean, and Kalen King.
But so far in 2023 — through four games as of this writing — Burke has looked like his best self yet. He’s back to his 2021 form, with added technical refinement and mental acuity, and he looks very much worthy of Round 1 capital. And looking at his profile compared to the other Round 1 CBs, he arguably has the highest scheme-versatile upside.
At 6’1″, 192 pounds, Burke is long, fast, and explosive. He’s fluid enough to turn and run with receivers, as well as sink down overtop hitches and comeback routes. He’s extremely physical and proactive with his length at the line and at stems, but this year, he’s improved his patience and timing, and it’s allowed him to play with greater efficiency.
Technique and processing, in fact, are the areas where Burke has shown the most growth. He’s more consistently using feet first in press-man, but also dictating releases with his length and physicality.
He’s maintaining rapid foot speed in off-man and adjusting his hip leverage well. And in off-man and zone, when getting depth, his backpedal looks much smoother and tighter, and he’s adapting off of that pedal with proficiency, processing WR movements and route modulations extremely quickly.
MORE: 2024 NFL Draft Big Board
Taking all this into account, Burke’s playmaking ability is just a cherry on top. He truly is another WR at the catch point with his length, vertical athleticism, body control, and sense of timing. In run support, his explosiveness and physicality provide an extra element. He’s disciplined, forceful, and combative taking on blocks, but he can also make plays in pursuit.
The biggest question for Burke will ultimately be: Just how fluid is he? He has good fluidity, but against quicker, more refined NFL WRs, the margin is slimmer. Are his occasional transitional hitches more a byproduct of tall technique, or is physical stiffness a bigger issue with him? Seeing his technical improvements so far in 2023, it’s safe to lean toward the former option.
Burke came into the season as a top-50 prospect on my 2024 NFL Draft board, and he’s only risen since the start. If he can sustain his top-notch play through the rest of the year, he can challenge for first-round capital and be a coveted option for scheme-diverse defensive coordinators.
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