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Brian Burns and a talented young defense have positioned the Carolina Panthers to take the next step

The NFL is increasingly valuing pass-rushers to help combat the league's turn toward pass-heavy offenses. The Carolina Panthers might be in the midst of a rebuild on the offensive side of the ball, but they're halfway to solving the biggest issue of the modern NFL: slowing down high-powered offenses with a disruptive defense. 

Third-year edge rusher Brian Burns has become one of the premiere young pass-rushers in the league, wreaking havoc as part of one of the league’s most unheralded defenses. The 23-year-old has helped propel the defense into one of the top-ranked units in the NFL even despite its Week 16 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Carolina sits at 5-10 on the season and last in the NFC South, however.

“It's been frustrating,” Burns said last week in an interview with PFF. “It's really been disappointing because I feel like we have such a great team and just for the cards not to fall your way or you not to get the results that you want, of course it's gonna be frustrating. But I feel like, as a defense — because I can't really speak for the offense — but I feel like as a defense, I feel like we're still trying to get better because we know there are brighter days ahead.”

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Burns, a team leader and defensive captain in just his third NFL season, is a 2022 NFC Pro Bowl starter who ranks ninth among edge defenders with an 89.2 pass-rush grade in true pass sets. His nine sacks rank 17th in the NFL, and the Florida State product’s 55 total pressures are 22nd. His 74.0 overall pass-rush grade ranks 27th among edge defenders this season, and he’s eighth with 32 defensive stops. The Panthers found a star in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and Burns is on the brink of his first double-digit sack season, which was one of his goals entering 2021.

Brian Burns in true pass sets | 2021
Pass-rush grade 89.2 9th
Pass-rush productivity 12.4 17th
Pass-rush win % 22.0% 30th

Click here to view Brian Burns' career in PFF Premium Stats…

Making the Pro Bowl was meaningful to Burns because he just missed out on the honor in 2020. It also means a sizable raise, assuming the Panthers wisely pick up his fifth-year option in 2023. Based on OverTheCap’s fifth-year option projections, Burns was projected to make $11.5 million in 2023 before his Pro Bowl nod. After Wednesday’s news, Burns is now set to earn $16.6 million on a fifth-year option.

Burns has dominated over the last two seasons for Carolina as one of the league’s premier pass rushers.

Burns among edge defenders | 2020-21
Pass Rush Grade 84.7 11th
Total Pressures 120 9th
Sacks 19 12th
Pass Rush Productivity 8.2 14th
Pressure Percentage 14.2% 16th
Batted Passes 6 7th
Forced Fumbles 5 7th
Defensive Stops 58 12th


Beyond Burns, Carolina also rosters the following talented young defensive players: 


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