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CFF Targets - The Tiger everyone wants in 2023
How high is too high to draft Luther Burden in CFF drafts this season?
I imagine some of you read that sub-header and thought, VP, I don’t like the assertion that there is a level that is too high to draft Luther Burden. Indeed, it’s hard to argue that the sky isn’t the limit for the talented sophomore out of Missouri. Burden arrived to the Missouri football program in 2022, after completing an illustrious career at the football factory otherwise known as East St-Louis High School. In his freshman season, Burden caught 45 passes (on 73 targets) for 375 yards and 6 TDs.
My philosophy when it comes to these uber-talented five-star players is that I refuse to draft them as freshman, as I find they’re always over-drafted, often fail to produce early in the season, and can be taken off the wire for free by October. In fact, I executed this exact strategy with fellow five-star freshman Evan Stewart in many of my leagues last season. But I did also keep an eye on Burden as the season progressed. Of course, like everyone else, I was impressed. I will say though, I was more impressed with that pesky #7 they had lining up in the slot, I wonder where he’s at now…
Coming back to Burden, he’s now a sophomore, and yet I feel like I’ve been watching him for years. That’s probably because he’s been a household name in the recruiting industry for some time. I have a passion for CFF, but I am just as much a degenerate for CFB recruiting content, in case you haven’t noticed in these articles. To be fair, these things sort of go hand-in-hand.
In the case of Burden, as a UGA fan, I have an even higher degree of familiarity, as we were in the final two of his recruitment. In fact, after he de-committed from OU, many believed he’d be UGA bound at one point. I know few, if any of you, will have any sympathy for us poor old UGA fans, but I’ve got to say this feeling of always a bridesmaid and never the bride when it comes to elite WRs is something that is really not great as a fan of the Dawgs. We’ve been in it to the end several times in the last few seasons, but have struggled to close. “Coffee’s for closers only”, as Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross would say, in this case, elite WRs are for closers only.
Something that also struck me as I was preparing this article is the fact that there are three separate programs in the SEC with ‘Tigers’ as their mascot: LSU, Auburn, and Mizzou. What’s up with that? I’m not sure I understand the infatuation with the Tiger amongst the SEC, but I do share in the infatuation amongst CFF managers for the sophomore stud donning yellow and black this upcoming season.
The question I am posing today is not whether Burden is a strong CFF asset in 2023, I think we’ve cleared that hurdle, rather, I am discussing just how strong of an asset he is, and where I feel is appropriate to draft such a player in re-drafts.
Coaching & System
Late in 2022, Mizzou head coach Eli Drinkwitz named former Fresno State (FSU) OC Kirby Moore as the Tigers’ new OC for 2023.
To kick things off, let me just say that I like coach Moore’s first name, I think it’s a good name for a coach to have. So that’s a good start.
Getting into the technicals, Mr. Moore is entering his second ever season as an OC. He finished his playing career at Boise State in 2013 and began coaching WRs immediately after at the College of Idaho. In the lone season he spent as FSU OC, the offence produced a 1000-yard season for Jalen Cropper, who finished his 2022 campaign with 84 receptions (on 114 targets), 1093 yards and 5 TDs. The TD numbers are a little low, however Cropper still averaged over 16 FPG (1-ppr) through 14 games.
While the lack of experience is a bit concerning, his track record in his one season checks the box that I needed to see, which is a 1000-yard receiver. There are enough off-the-field factors at play with Missouri that I am not concerned with whether there will be a coordinated effort to get Burden the ball. As many programs have found out, when it comes to five-stars in the era of NIL and loose transfer portal conditions, you either use them or lose them in most instances. Indeed, I have seen some in the CFF community take it as a foregone conclusion that Burden will be finishing his CFB career at Alabama. I am not sure exactly where the Crimson Tide come into it, but I understand the notion overall.
Burden is locked into several reportedly lucrative NIL deals with Mizzou, and, from a recruiting standpoint, one has to imagine that the Tiger’s staff will do everything in their power to convert Burden into a high draft pick, which they can use as their recruiting pitch to the next Luther Burden. Such is the circle of recruiting. It’s why coaches like Nick Saban fight so hard to pull elite players out of rival states like GA each cycle. Every Caleb Downs (who is likely a top-20 pick in three years) they sign is another feather in the cap they can use in their pitch to future elite GA players, and so on.
With Burden, the Tigers desperately need to present a successful development lifecycle for the former Missouri five-star if they want to secure other elite players in-state. What does that mean from a CFF perspective? I think it means they are going to do everything possible to keep Burden happy. I expect him to be showered with not only targets but other creative ways to get the ball in his hands. They’ve already shown a willingness to get creative in his freshman season; Burden carried the ball 18 times for 99 yards and two scores in 2022. As it happens, Moore’s leading receiver at FSU last year — Jalen Cropper, also saw some carries, toting the rock 7 times for 19 yards and a score.
Burden’s move to the slot could unlock a lot of CFF upside
Spring camps started around the country earlier this week and with that comes more information. Of note, it sounds like Burden will be moving to the slot position for this upcoming season.
I was being coy earlier about ‘that pesky #7’ in the introduction section. That was of course recent transfer Dominic Lovett (another East St. Louis standout), who joined the Bulldogs late in 2022. Lovett led the Tigers in receiving last season with 56 receptions (76 targets) for 846 yards and 3 TDs. That’s a lot of targets vacating the roster, and I’m encouraged that Burden will be taking over the same role now. Moore’s last 1000-yard receiver — Cropper, appeared to occupy the X-WR position. Though, if my memory serves correct, from what limited FSU football I watched last season I believe Cropper was moved all over the place. It doesn’t really matter in our case, as we pretty much know the Tigers are going be using Burden in a heavy capacity.
Judging from the quotes of Missouri Tigers WRs coach, I suspect this offence will be getting the ball in Burden’s hands near the line of scrimmage a lot, and allowing him to utilize his run-after-catch ability:
You look at some of his best explosive plays, were making guys miss . . . he's an old-school running back at heart and so that's why he is able to do some of those things in the slot . . . as we got through the season and kind of started seeing what his skillset was going to be quick, easy throws and being a running back after the catch.
The WR coach also mentioned that one of the benefits of the slot would be the free access Burden would get in his release off the line of scrimmage:
if you look at his explosive plays from last year, a lot of them were free access . . . The biggest thing for Luther is we want to keep it as simple as possible.
It sounds like Burden is going to be exactly my type of WR next season. I have an affinity for slot receivers who get their volume near the line of scrimmage. The reason for that is that most of the plays that are geared toward them are easy to execute and hard to stop. Whereas the big boundary WRs can pop off a 15 fantasy point score with a deep shot TD on any given play, the likelihood of completing these passes is much lower, which makes these players more of a boom or bust. With players in the past like WKU’s Jerreth Sterns and Ball State’s Justin Hall (two VP alumni), they were virtually unstoppable and were basically a guaranteed 10 point fantasy floor in ppr leagues.
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