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Raiders Draft 2023: Coverage can be Amari Burney’s forte

Linebacker has the speed and safety background to matchup

South Carolina v Florida
Florida linebacker Amari Burney (2) covers South Carolina tight end Austin Stogner in the two team’s matchup back in November. The Las Vegas Raiders were impressed with Burney’s coverage ability and made him a sixth-round pick.
Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

The previous regime took a collegiate safety and moved him to linebacker in the pros in Divine Deablo. The current Las Vegas Raiders brain trust selected a a similar conversion prospect in Amari Burney.

Three rounds separate Deablo and Burney — the former a third-round pick in 2021 (80th overall), the latter a sixth-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft (203rd overall) — but both represent the Silver & Black’s most logical options as cover linebackers. Out of the seven at the position group on the 90-man roster, no one approaches what Deablo and Burney have to offer and that is an opportune thing for the rookie.

Just like how the previous Raiders coaching staff viewed Deablo, the current crop of decision makers see Burney as a linebacker in the pros. The Florida product made the switch from safety to linebacker in 2019 and the 2022 season was Burney’s first as a full-time starter at weakside linebacker.

“Yeah, we think he’s a linebacker,” Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler said of Burney during his post Day 3 of the draft media session. “ He started as a safety, played linebacker at Florida this year. That’s a transition that’s not super easy to make, just your line of vision and how you see the game from a safety position to a linebacker position. Obviously, it’s a lot quicker reaction from the linebacker spot. We thought he’s done a really good job over his career developing as a linebacker. He does also have that coverage ability that you kind of see that safety background.”

Syndication: Gator Sports
Amari Burney (2) started at weakside linebacker for all 13 of the Florida Gators’ games in 2022.
Matt Pendleton / USA TODAY NETWORK

What works in Burney’s favor is his size — 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds — and having the requisite speed (4.50 at the Florida Pro Day, although Ziegler noted some timers had him at 4.48/4.49), backpedal and hips to turn and run with skill-position pass catchers. He was also a productive defender against SEC competition producing career-highs with 79 total tackles (nine stops for loss), four sacks, two forced fumbles, six pass breakups and two interceptions. The latter of that statistical rundown is particularly impressive as the pair of picks led the Gators — and I’ll let you decide if that’s a commendation for Burney or condemnation for the Florida defense as a whole.

“I think in college sometimes they line those guys up to make them play a little bit more man coverage. You don’t see a lot of linebackers in the pros play man coverage anymore,” Ziegler noted. “Obviously, you do it a little bit in cover one. One of the things we look at when we’re watching linebackers at the pro level or college level is their ability to close space and zone because that’s really what they’re asked to do more than anything else is drop into zone and close space, and he could do that. Also had a couple good plays playing tight ends and things like that down the seam. So, I think he’s a versatile guy that’s still growing.”

Continued growth is key for Burney.

Like Deablo, the NFL neophyte must continue his development as a pro linebacker against opposition that is equally as big — if not bigger — and just as fast — if not faster. While Burney did show well as a blitzer for Florida, if activated to attack, he’ll have to do so against fierce NFL offensive linemen.

But on Day 3 of the draft, teams are looking to unearth diamonds in the rough and finding high upside/special teamers in the late rounds. Burney offers at least that. If he can continue to grind, build his physique and hone his craft as a linebacker — much like he did for a career 2022 season at Florida — Las Vegas may have mined a true gem in the sixth round.

And like mentioned above, with the current linebacker crop not profiling as cover types, Burney is afforded the opportunity to prove he belongs on the 53-man roster.