Stellar, Standard and Subpar: Eric Burrell in 2020
As we head into July, AllBadgers.com looks at a few potential key contributors on the Wisconsin football roster for next season.
During these evaluations, we will hypothesize just exactly what a stellar, standard and subpar performance could be for each individual player. On Tuesday, let's jump to the third level of the defense with the safety group and another redshirt senior who could end his Wisconsin career with a standout campaign.
After Scott Nelson was lost for the rest of the 2019 season due to a left leg injury, Eric Burrell, Reggie Pearson and former walk-on Collin Wilder stepped up in a significant manner in the safety room.
Looking at Burrell in particular, he started 13 of 14 games. The Maryland native finished tied for first on the team in interceptions with inside linebacker Jack Sanborn (three). He also recorded 55 tackles -- good for fifth on the team -- along with 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and six pass breakups.
Jim Leonhard's safety group can be thought of as one of the strongest and deepest positions not just on the defense, but for the entire program. Even with playing three from this room on the field at the same time, battle for reps and roles will be interesting whenever Wisconsin gets back to practice. However, Burrell should be one of the key contributors to the unit.
In this scenario, Burrell finishes his final year at UW in fantastic fashion (alliteration!). Leonhard moves him around the field with success, and he racks up more tackles and hits behind the line of scrimmage (as seen previously against Northwestern last season that resulted in a Matt Henningsen touchdown).
The safety group as a whole can function interchangeably without drop off in production and creates more turnovers and opportunities for big plays -- both in pass coverage and in opposing offenses' backfields.
In this hypothesized timeline, Burrell still ends his Badger days in fine fashion, contributing heavily on a defense that is strong up front on the line and in the secondary. He sees increases in the recorded statistics.
With so many players that have started or contributing to the unit in recent seasons, and Nelson presumably back in the fold, Burrell still finds ways to improve his craft -- though it may not show on the stats sheet at all times.
It is always hard in this section, especially with a player like Burrell who I do not think will drop off (that has been the case for the other half dozen players discussed in this series so far).
In this theoretical setup, maybe others step up alongside or even ahead of Burrell at times with reps, so his snap counts and stats decrease over the course of the season.
As seen last season due to injuries -- and even two targeting penalties in the third quarter of the win against Michigan that resulted in Burrell and Pearson missing the first half of the Northwestern contest -- it is always good to have plenty of game-ready players at any one position.
Despite the competition at safety, I think Burrell ends his Wisconsin career on a high note. Pro Football Focus obviously thought highly of his coverage skills in 2019 (as seen in the tweet above), and he can make stops when needed. I believe he will help the defense continue its resurgence back to being a top-10, top-15 unit.