Coming out of high school, Amari Burney was a 4-Star recruit and the No. 7 safety in the 2017 class, per ESPN. However, during his second year at the University of Florida, Burney made the switch to linebacker and while he didn’t know it at the time, that transition was something that led to the Las Vegas Raiders drafting him in the sixth round.
“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,” Raiders’ general manager Dave Ziegler said of Burney. “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. ...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 [be effective in] zone [coverage] 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.”
Obviously, the GM was very complimentary of what Burney can bring to the table as a coverage linebacker, but what does that look like? Let’s flip on tape!
Subtle but I like how Amari Burney reads Levi’s’ eyes and sits in the passing lane pic.twitter.com/U6XhtJNCZN— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) May 15, 2023
In our first clip, Florida is running a simulated pressure with Burney walked up near the line of scrimmage to bluff the blitz. Post-snap, he has to drop into the hook-to-curl zone in this Cover 2 look from the Gators while the other backer rushes the passer as they’re essentially switching responsibilities.
That’s a tough assignment as Burney has to cover ground both vertically and laterally. However, he has the athletic ability to get to the landmark but what I like most about this rep is he does a great job of reading Will Levis’ eyes and parking himself in the passing lane against the curl route.
With his pre-snap alignment, it’s was going to be pretty difficult for him to completely take that route away, but he at least makes this a more challenging throw for Levis. This rep won’t make Burney’s highlight reel, but it’s a quality rep nonetheless.
In this clip we’re going to see another good example of Burney’s eye discipline and how that helps him in coverage.
Florida is running Cover 3 here and he’s going to be the middle hook defender. Again, he gets to his landarmark initially and this time, he turns his head to locate any potential threats and sees the slot receiver working up the seem.
Then, the Gator has the athletcisim to flip his hips and carry the receiver down field from a trail position. Since he’s out of phase, he does an excellent job of keeping his eyes on his man and when the wideout flashes hands, Burney gets his hands involved at the catch point to break up the pass.
You can’t ask for anything more than that from a backer carrying a receiver down the field.
It’s a shame this goes down as a bad play, but it’s really just bad luck.
Burney lines up as a line of scrimage linebacker and carries Brock Bowers, the top tight end in this upcoming draft class, down the field on a go route. The linebacker is in a perfect position and even bats the ball in the air, but right to Bowers and he trips so it ends up being a touchdown.
Football can be a cruel game because Burney does just about everything right here, especially in man coverage from that pre-snap alignment against a quality opponent.
We’ll end with another example of what our subject can do in coverage when lining up at the line of scrimage pre-snap.
Florida is in man coverage and Burney recognizes that the running back is running a wheel route, so he opens his hips and carries the back down the field. He does get turned around a bit, but he recovers by under cutting the route and making a beautiful diving interception.
Thats were we can see some of those defensive back skills that Ziegler fell in love with and led to Burney getting drafted.