Jermaine Burton Offers Rare Late-Round Fantasy Football Upside As A Cincinnati Bengal

May 04, 2024
Jermaine Burton Offers Rare Late-Round Fantasy Upside As A Cincinnati Bengal

With the 80th selection of the 2024 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals spent the first of two third-round picks on wide receiver Jermaine Burton. Though the Bengals were once thought to have one of the very best 3WR sets in the league, the team doesn’t look to be bringing back Tyler Boyd and is having contract issues with the currently franchise-tagged Tee Higgins. Burton will look to bolster the wide receiver room from Week 1 as long as he can eschew scout rumors that he is an “undisciplined player.”

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Jermaine Burton’s Prospect Profile

With some experience at the highly lauded IMG Academy under his belt, Jermaine Burton entered the 2020 recruiting class as a four-star recruit and the No. 15 wide receiver in the country. After two seasons with the Georgia Bulldogs, he would eventually transfer to Alabama for his final two collegiate seasons, reportedly for an opportunity to team up with Bryce Young in 2022.

Burton flashed instantly as a freshman, earning just one fewer target than teammate George Pickens to finish second on the team. His numbers likely would have looked even better had the team not been quite as run-heavy, as they attempted 346 rushes to only 307 pass attempts from JT Daniels/Stetson Bennett.

The following season would prove to be a better offensive environment, as Georgia finished fifth in the nation in scoring en route to a National Championship. Though Burton’s targets were more efficient, his place in the pecking order took a precipitous drop, as he had to deal with the future NFL-bound trio of Brock Bowers, Adonai Mitchell, and Ladd McConkey, not to mention James Cook and a few more games of Pickens. This likely played into his decision to move to Alabama.

Jermaine Burton College Career Statline
Year College Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns YPRR aDOT
2020 Georgia 52 27 404 3 1.58 14.8
2021 Georgia 30 26 497 5 2.39 14.3
2022 Alabama 58 40 677 7 2.03 16.4
2023 Alabama 57 39 798 8 2.75 20.2

His move turned out to be a good one, as the Crimson Tide started utilizing him as more of a deep threat, culminating in 2023 when he was one of only seven FBS players to clear 20+ yards per reception. According to PFF’s numbers, Burton was targeted 20+ yards down the field on 36.8% of his targets, the ninth-highest among 133 qualifying draft-eligible wide receivers. His hefty 56.3% contested catch rate also ranked 25th out of that same group.

Burton was lined up wide on a majority of his snaps last season (80.1%) but has experience out of the slot, particularly in 2022, when he was on the inside at a 39.3% rate. Over these last two seasons, Burton has accrued 35 slot targets for 421 yards, or 12.03 yards per target. Out of 171 qualifying receivers across the entirety of the FBS in ‘23, that would have been the 11th-highest rate.

His versatility in the lineup and his proficiency as a route runner have led both a pure-metrics analyst (JJ Zachariason) and a more film-minded analyst (Matt Waldman) to come to a comp of Robert Woods, who was a phenomenal fantasy asset when he was introduced to a great offense (2017-2021, Rams).

We can certainly envision that with Burton, but we do have to consider character concerns that left him off some teams’ draft boards, which is likely why he fell to the third round. But the talent is there. Per Reception Perception’s Matt Harmon,

“What is undeniable is the talent of the player. If he works at the craft and integrates himself into the fabric of his NFL team, I would be stunned if he doesn’t become a quality wideout. Jermaine Burton has the type of Reception Perception profile I would bet on five times over. There’s nothing else to say except, we’ll see what happens.”

How Jermaine Burton Fits with the Bengals

As the depth chart currently stands, Burton is the clear-cut WR3 from Day 1, assuming he is ready for professional life. There is a small chance that free agent Tyler Boyd will return on a one-year deal, but he has been meeting with the Chargers and Titans recently, so the book should be closed there.

With no off-field hiccups, there is little to no chance that Trenton Irwin, Andrei Iosivas, Charlie Jones, etc., will keep the rookie off the field, but Burton is likely to be more of a slot receiver than he ever was during his collegiate career. Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins lined up out wide on 75.9% and 82.3% of their snaps last season, nearly identical to their rates in 2022 (75.6% and 81.9%). As long as Higgins is in town, they’re not going to force his 6’4”, 219-pound frame inside any more than they have to.

The pairing will also not be giving up their roles in 2WR sets any time soon. The good news is that the Bengals have consistently run 2WR sets less than any team other than the Los Angeles Rams over the past three seasons, with Boyd averaging 633 routes run per season since 2021.

Burton will see the field far more than a typical third-round wide receiver, and his upside would be monstrous if anything unforeseen happens in front of him (like Higgins getting the trade he so desires).

Projecting the Bengals Offense in Fantasy Football

It’s weird to say that Burton presents more of a threat to the Bengals' main 1-2 punch than Boyd did during his very productive career in Cincinnati, but he really may. If the rookie can perform up to his talents, he offers more to Joe Burrow and the offense than the entire depth chart behind Ja’Marr Chase. Tee Higgins is a phenomenal boundary receiver who has become the deep-ball threat on this offense, but he still leaves a lot of meat on the bone, including his 1.66 yards per route run (42nd/96 qualifying WRs) and 34.8% contested catch rate (69th/96) from last year.

Sure, he had a hobbled Burrow and Jake Browning throwing him the ball, but Chase finished 24th and 45th in those metrics, so it’s hard to say it only affected one receiver.

The addition of Burton impacts Higgins's floor and ceiling, as the rookie is a much bigger threat to his deep game than Boyd ever was. Chase remains one of the game's best real-life and fantasy football assets, regardless of who the teammate is. There a lot of unknowns surrounding Burton right now, but he should be a consistent dart throw in the later rounds —particularly in best ball leagues— as his ceiling outcomes are far better than the options going around him.

Bottom Line

  • Jermaine Burton slid to the third round of the NFL Draft due to character concerns and off-the-field issues but flashed talent across two major college programs.
  • Burton exhibited versatility by lining up all over the field and consistently producing through all four of his seasons.
  • With Tyler Boyd off the roster, Burton threatens Tee Higgins far more than Ja’Marr Chase while putting Joe Burrow back in the conversation as a top-7 quarterback option.
  • According to current Underdog ADP, Burton (WR75, 169.2) is a screaming value in the 15th round, going around the likes of J.K. Dobbins, Adam Thielen, Demario Douglas, and Wan’Dale Robinson. The rookie offers league-winning upside, even if there’s a low likelihood that he gets there without a trade or unforeseen event to the “Big Two” wide receivers on the depth chart.
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