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Aaron Burbridge: How Big a Deal is the Michigan State WR?

On Saturday night, the Michigan State Spartans will play for the Big 10 championship and presumably a spot in the college football playoff. While quarterback Connor Cook has received most of the attention this year, I think receiver Aaron Burbridge has been the best player on offense. Continuing with my series of college football articles, let’s take a deep dive into Burbridge’s college career and his NFL outlook.

Wait for it… wait for it…

When looking at his résumé, the first thing that stands out is that Burbridge kept us waiting for his breakout. With just 916 yards and three touchdowns in his first three collegiate seasons, there wasn’t much of a reason to know who he was coming into his senior year. However, in his 2015 campaign, the Spartans star has amassed 1,148 yards and seven touchdowns while accounting for 40 percent of his team’s receiving yards, ranking him among one of the nation’s best in terms of market share.

Considering this breakout is happening in his age 22 season, I want to find other players of similar age who had the majority of their career production in their final season. You may remember, I wrote about final season yardage percentage when reviewing Kevin White. It’s not necessarily predictive, but I do think it helps us understand what we’re looking at. Here’s the initial filter:

  • Final season age 21.5 to 22.5
  • More than 46 percent of their career yardage coming in their final season. Burbridge looks likely to finish with about 56 percent of his career production coming in his final season.
  • Drafted in rounds 2 – 4
  • Weight within 10 pounds of Burbridge’s 208 pounds
WRPickF AgeF Yds % of CareerWeight
Torrey Smith5821.947.6204
Jason Hill7621.954.7204
Leonard Hankerson7921.953.5209
Mohamed Sanu8322.453.3211
Josh Huff8622.248.2206
Chris Givens9622.153.8198
Marcus Easley10722.289.6210
Martavis Bryant11822.061.2211
Louis Murphy12421.652.6203
Quinton Patton12822.453.7204
Aaron Burbridge22.056.0*208

I like this group because it has a wide range of potential outcomes for Burbridge. Guys like Torrey Smith and Martavis Bryant have existed in the WR2 range, while guys like Leonard Hankerson and Mohamed Sanu have been contributors when healthy, while Marcus Easley and Jason Hill have been irrelevant.

The Preliminary Comparables

Taking things a step further, I want to narrow this list based on a few more factors. First, Burbridge has rushed for 146 yards in his college career, and received carries in all four years, which I think is indicative of a certain style of player. Moreover, his 40 percent market share of yards in this final season is really exceptional, so I want to give him credit for that too. Filtering the list down to guys who had at least 50 career rushing yards and had more than 30 percent of their team’s receiving yards in their final season, we get:

  • Torrey Smith (66 rush yards)
  • Mohamed Sanu (653 rush yards)
  • Josh Huff (242 rush yards)
  • Chris Givens (238 rush yards)

When I think about these players, I think about complementary parts of a passing game who can do some damage after the catch, but don’t profile as alpha receivers.

The Career Trajectory

Just to put a bow on things, here is how Burbridge’s career looks, in terms of age and market share of yards, when plotted against eventual NFL receivers who have posted 150 point fantasy seasons in the pros.

Burbridge's career

There’s still much more to this story, like how athletic he is and where he gets drafted, but this is my initial read on the situation. If things break right, maybe he could post a 150 point fantasy season (WR1 territory), but I wouldn’t necessarily call him an elite prospect.

Check him out in this video via going against Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis, one of the best cornerbacks in college football. Also, keep an eye on him against Iowa in the Big 10 championship game as the Spartans look to make the college football playoff. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Jon Moore is a contributor at RotoViz and a cohost of Rotoviz Radio – A Fantasy Football Podcast. Continue this conversation with him on Google+Facebook or Twitter.

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