One of the constants during head coach Andy Reid’s tenure with the Kansas City Chiefs has been his use of a fullback. In the first offseason after his arrival in 2013, Reid traded for Anthony Sherman, utilizing him as the team’s only fullback for eight seasons. After Sherman’s retirement last month, the Chiefs finally had to find another player to fill his role.
On Thursday, they signed former New Orleans Saints fullback Michael Burton for that purpose. He was the Saints’ starting fullback last season, where he played 19% of their offensive snaps. That’s quite the contrast from Sherman, who played only 6% of the Chiefs’ snaps.
While it may be seen as one of the least exciting signings of the offseason, Burton’s acquisition can still inform us about the Chiefs’ team philosophy.
I have three things to know about this signing:
1. The Chiefs value the position
Over the past decade, the fullback position has become obsolete among many NFL teams. The transition from traditional offenses to more spread out, pass-heavy attacks has diminished the need for a position that doesn’t bring much receiving upside.
Sherman was one of the last well-known fullbacks in the league — and even he wasn’t topping 6% of the Chiefs’ offensive plays in 2020. That rate has trended down from 36% in 2013 — and has been in the single digits since Patrick Mahomes became the starter.
All that said, the Chiefs have still locked up an experienced fullback who saw one of the highest snap count totals among NFL fullbacks in 2020. They could have patched up Sherman’s small offensive role with an undrafted rookie or another less-experienced player — and they still could. Instead, they secured Burton. That should tell us fullbacks are still valued by the organization.
2. Burton has familiarity with a dynamic offense
Although he only spent one season with the Saints, Burton was used all over the place in an offense that shares the creativity of the Chiefs’ offense. According to PFF, Burton lined up as an inline tight end for 11 snaps, flexed out as a slot receiver for 29 snaps and even lined up out wide for 25 snaps in 2020.
He also showed some receiving ability in his short time there. Adding in the postseason, Burton hauled in all six of his targets for 43 yards — including a 9-yard catch-and-run against the Chiefs in Week 15. All three are the most he’s had since his rookie season with the Detroit Lions in 2015.
While he’s been primarily used as a traditional fullback, he should feel comfortable adapting to the creativity and innovation of the Chiefs’ offense.
3. Burton has ability on special teams
Burton played only 29% of the Saints’ special teams plays last season — which is a big difference from 58% special-teams utilization Sherman had with the Chiefs. Burton was only used on the kick-return and punt-coverage units, while Sherman played on every phase of special teams — although he only saw two snaps with the punt return team.
But Sherman’s biggest contribution to the Chiefs has been his constant presence on the special teams unit. Burton, like most fullbacks, has earned his roster spot with special teams play his entire career — but he hasn’t been as important to the unit as Sherman has.
As if Sherman’s on-field play wasn’t hard enough to replace, the Chiefs will also be missing a true leader of the special teams unit. Even if Kansas City wants him to fill that role, Burton likely can’t be expected to head the unit like Sherman has during his eight seasons with the Chiefs.