Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire
I am a diehard Bears fan, and I have suffered through plenty of inept offenses over the years. I was desperately hoping we would make some moves during the offseason to help Mitch Trubisky. Sure enough, we signed Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton. We already had Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, so this was rounding out to be a nice offense. The draft would bring Anthony Miller in the second round (who looks like a true difference maker so far), and suddenly I dreamed of how high the Bears could go. For fantasy purposes, though, one guy has really stood out from this group as a great value: Trey Burton.
Burton backed up Zach Ertz last year and didn’t put up much in the way of stats as a result. He totaled 23 receptions for 248 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. If this were based solely on last year, there would be nothing to see here. However, the Bears signed Burton to a 4-year contract worth $32 million. I have always believed that money talks. Here is a list of the top-paid tight ends heading into 2018:
|Player||Salary in 2018|
|Jimmy Graham||$10 million|
|Travis Kelce||$9.4 million|
|Jordan Reed||$9.4 million|
|Rob Gronkowski||$9.0 million|
|Zach Ertz||$8.5 million|
|Delanie Walker||$8.5 million|
|Trey Burton||$8.5 million|
Even if he is not an elite talent, Burton will be given every chance to prove it this year based on the financial investment. I like knowing my tight end will be guaranteed volume. Moving past the money, we can also look at the coaching and the offense. New head coach Matt Nagy, who developed under Andy Reid, is expected to run a similar offense. This would make Trey Burton akin to Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz in terms of deployment. The role of the tight end in an Andy Reid offense, as we’ve seen in both Kansas City and Philadelphia, is to move around and open up the offense. Basically, Trey Burton will constantly be on the field running routes and eating up targets. Let’s take a look at Kelce and Ertz and their targets per week last season:
|Travis Kelce||Zach Ertz|
|Games 1-4||26 targets||36 targets|
|Games 5-8||33 targets||17 targets|
|Games 9-12||35 targets||20 targets|
|Season||122 targets (8/gm)||110 targets (7.8/gm)|
Okay, so I’ve shown Kelce and Ertz are worth their prices. Why should I care about Burton though? Head coach Matt Nagy learned under Andy Reid in K.C. last season and plans to run the same offense here in Chicago. Let’s take a look at the limited sample sizes we do have on Burton when he had the chance to be the lead dog. Last year, during the only week that Ertz missed, Burton saw 6 targets for 5 catches, 71 yards, and 2 touchdowns. In 2016, Ertz missed weeks 2 and 3. During that time, Burton saw 13 targets for 68 yards and a touchdown. When Ertz has been out, Burton has done a capable job of picking up the slack. This is the whole reason the Bears saw him as a worthwhile investment.
I’m still not a fan of using just this small sample size, so let’s finish up with some preseason action. In the Hall of Fame game, most of the first team sat the night out. In the next game against the Bengals, Trubisky threw 4 passes, completed 2 of them, and one went to Burton for 5 yards. Against the Broncos in the third preseason game, we finally started to see some real action. Trubisky went 9/14 for 90 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Trey Burton saw 5 of those targets, catching 4 of them for 45 yards and a touchdown. Let’s take a look at Burton’s first grab
We can see that the pass was a little bit off, but Burton still manages to pull it in for a big gain and a first down. So far, reports from Bears reporters are that Trubisky has had some struggles in completely picking up the offense. This isn’t a huge surprise as this is still only year 2 for him, but it means the offense will likely lean on the run game (Jordan Howard) and safer passes to big, reliable targets—like the tight end. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Burton regularly targeted 6-8 times per game, especially in crucial situations. Now, let’s take a look at Burton’s touchdown catch:
Here, we see a wide-open Burton trot into the endzone untouched. It’s nice to see his number called in the red zone, and it brings up our last topic: red zone upside. This is one area I think is fair to be concerned about. If I was going to rank the Bears red zone threats, Jordan Howard would be the #1 by a longshot. He’s a punishing back who’s good at finding his spots. What about number 2? This is where Burton will hopefully slot in. However, I worry about Adam Shaheen vulturing some of that redzone value. Shaheen should be the inline tight end, and he is the better blocker. At the same time, he has shown more than capable of catching the ball when called upon. Shaheen is out right now with a sprained ankle, but I worry he could eat into Burton’s eventual red zone targets.
All said and done, what does this mean for Burton? Well, he is extremely unproven and could have a wide range of outcomes. Personally, I think Burton has a ceiling as high as tight end #4 (assuming Gronk, Ertz, and Kelce stay healthy) with a relatively safe floor because of his role in the Bears offense. I am happy to draft him as the #10 tight end, and I am even willing to reach as high as tight end #7—ahead of Kyle Rudolph, Jordan Reed, and Jimmy Graham.