There is no substitute for speed in the NFL and former North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown has plenty of it.
Brown ran the 100-meter dash in 10.6 seconds in high school and set the North Carolina school record in the indoor 60-meter dash as a sophomore. That speed has also translated well to the football field.
In 2011, Brown led North Carolina with 105 tackles. He was tied for the team lead with three interceptions and three forced fumbles, and trailed only first-round prospect Quinton Coples with 5.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries.
At 6-foot-1, 241 pounds, Brown is a unique draft prospect with a rare blend of size and speed.
“(My speed) sets me apart because not all linebackers can run a 4.4 (40-yard dash) and play with that kind of speed,” Brown told Detroitlions.com Tuesday as he was visiting the Allen Park training facility as one of the team’s 30 pre-draft visits. “I can use my speed to make a lot of plays that other linebackers can’t.
“I can cover slot receivers and I can cover running backs because they’re not going to outrun me. I can use my speed when I blitz.”
Brown can also cover, leaving North Carolina with seven career interceptions.
“I can catch and I’ve got good ball skills,” he said. “I take pride in not letting a tight end, or whoever I’m covering, catch the ball. If I’m covering you, you’re not going to catch the ball.”
Brown thinks his speed will help acclimate him to the NFL quicker and possibly make him a contributor early in his career.
“They say the speed of the NFL is much different than college and much faster,” he said. “With my speed, I think it kind of gives me a step on everybody coming in and will make for an easier transition.
“When I figure everything out, I think I’ll be able to click and play even faster.”
Brown played all three linebacker positions in college but said he’s more comfortable on the outside.
The Lions have all three starting linebackers returning from last year’s team – Stephen Tulloch, Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy — and also have reserve linebackers Doug Hogue and Ashlee Palmer under contract.
That’s not to say there couldn’t be a spot for Brown, though. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is always up for good competition and the Lions would like to add more depth at both linebacker and the special teams, especially with the loss of Bobby Carpenter in free agency. It would be hard to keep Brown’s kind of speed off the field.
Most projections have Brown going off the board in the second round. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has him going to the Eagles with the 46th overall pick in his latest mock draft.
Brown says he’s already visited the Bears and Titans and has visits lined up with the Jets and Ravens.
Burnett out to prove analysts wrong
Former Nevada defensive end Kaelin Burnett is well aware what the draft analysts think of his talents.
Burnett, who was also in Allen Park Tuesday for a pre-draft visit, isn’t among the top 150 players available in the NFL Draft, according to ESPN. In fact, there’s not much draft buzz about him at all.
“It fuels me a little bit, but at the same time I don’t have much playing experience,” Burnett said. “But they will know about me.
“You can’t pay attention to it because anything goes on draft day. You have guys that are supposed to go in the first, second or third round go in the sixth or seventh round on draft day. It really doesn’t matter.”
Burnett (6-4, 238) didn’t become a starter at Nevada until his senior year and had to overcome a major hip injury in the spring just to get on the field at all.
In 13 games as a starter in 2011, he recorded 51 tackles, eight tackles for loss and five sacks.
Burnett was not invited to the combine, but turned some heads at Nevada’s Pro Day March 21 when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds.
That has some teams thinking Burnett can stand up and play outside linebacker as well as be a defensive end in the NFL.
“I’m just showing teams my versatility in that I can stand up and play either a Sam or weak-side linebacker,” he said.
Kaelin’s brother, Kevin, is currently a linebacker for the Dolphins.
Burnett would most likely play defensive end if the Lions were to either draft him or sign him as an undrafted rookie free agent.
“Here, it’s all about pass rush and you have to be able to line up wide and go. It’s aggressive,” he said. “I feel like I could do that here.”
The Lions were Burnett’s first pre-draft visit but he’ll also be visiting the Raiders later this week.
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