Let’s just say I disagreed with the sentiment.

After Jermaine Burton earned preseason first-team All-SEC honors instead of Cedric Tillman, I wrote “this was so egregious I thought that it was a typo” because “there’s no argument whatsoever to make that Burton is the better player than Tillman.” Tillman had an 8-game stretch to close the 2021 season that was more productive than Burton’s entire 2-year career at Georgia. Tennessee had 1 game against Alabama in 2021 while Georgia had 2. Tillman had 152 yards, Burton had 64.

You see my point? Burton got too much love heading into the season because he transferred to play with Bryce Young much like Jameson Williams did. It was overlooked that in 2 years with plenty of opportunity at Georgia, Burton wasn’t a go-to receiver.

It’s early, but Burton hasn’t become a go-to receiver in his new surroundings. That chemistry should improve, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Burton had his biggest game in an Alabama uniform against a lackluster Vanderbilt passing defense on Saturday.

But let’s acknowledge why he’s more suited to be a role player instead of a go-to guy in the Tide offense.

Through 3 games, Burton has 8 catches for 61 yards and 2 scores. Here’s his game-by-game production:

  • vs. Utah State — 5 catches, 35 yards, 2 TDs
  • at Texas — 2 catches, 10 yards
  • vs. ULM — 1 catch, 16 yards

Not ideal. He hasn’t caught a pass longer than 16 yards, and only 3 went for 10 yards. Two of his catches came once Jalen Milroe replaced Young against Utah State.

So is Burton’s invisibility in games related to playing time? Not at all.

  • vs. Utah State — 9 targets on 34 passing snaps
  • at Texas — 5 targets on 44 passing snaps
  • vs. ULM — 2 targets on 16 passing snaps

Burton has 94 snaps as a receiver and Alabama has 99 pass attempts. Only 5 SEC receivers have more snaps as a receiver than him, none of whom are Alabama receivers. Burton has 16 targets, which is more than Jahmyr Gibbs (15), Traeshon Holden (15), Kobe Prentice (12), Cameron Latu (10), Ja’Corey Brooks (4) and anyone on Alabama’s roster.

To recap, Burton has played the most passing snaps of any Alabama player and he leads the team in targets and yet, he ranks 4th in catches and 6th in receiving yards. On top of that, PFF has him graded No. 42 among SEC receivers.

Again, not ideal.

It’d be one thing if you could point to Burton’s usage and show that his lack of production is just the byproduct of some early Alabama blowouts. That hasn’t been the case, though. Remember, Burton dealt with lower body injuries at Georgia last year, but even playing essentially the whole season without George Pickens yielded just 27 catches in 15 games.

This might just be who Burton is. He’s not going to consistently get separation, and he’s not going to consistently take the top off a defense. In fact, nobody has really shown that they can do the latter in this Alabama offense.

Want a wild stat? Young is tied with Tennessee backup Joe Milton with 3 completions of 30 yards. Not a single pass has gone for 40 yards after a year in which he led Power 5 with 18 such completions. Without Louisville transfer Tyler Harrell, Alabama hasn’t found a deep threat yet.

Burton’s history and his start at Alabama suggest he won’t be that. Last year at Georgia, Burton only had 6 catches of 20 yards. That was tied with teammates Ladd McConkey and AD Mitchell, as well Florida tight end Kemore Gamble and LSU’s Kayshon Boutte … who only played 6 games. Tight end Brock Bowers, meanwhile, had 15 catches of 20 yards playing in that same Georgia offense.

So then what can Burton be? It’s pretty obvious. Alabama needs a move-the-chains, possession receiver. A glue guy. Harrell won’t be that guy when he returns, nor is it fair to expect Gibbs to evolve into that role when he’s juggling duties as the lead back in Bill O’Brien’s offense. Young is searching for his 2022 version of John Metchie. Nobody had more 10-yard catches against SEC competition than Metchie in 2021.

Granted, Metchie certainly benefitted from working alongside a deep threat like Williams. Alabama doesn’t have anything close to Williams, especially with Harrell out. Hence, the smaller throwing windows for Young when he targets Burton and Co.

You’d hope that a receiver in Year 3 in the SEC would continue to develop catching balls in traffic in the middle of the field. Burton, at this point of his career, should be able to operate out of the slot and find the soft spot against zone coverage. With the injury to JoJo Earle, an Alabama team who already had 1,131 slot snaps to replace from last year’s team has been in search for answers there to start 2022.

Burton actually has just as many snaps in the slot (67) and inline (2) as he does split out wide (69). That’s different from last year when he played 75 slot snaps all season. Clearly, he’s still adjusting to playing all over the field. It’s no secret that Alabama’s passing game is defended differently with Young’s than Georgia’s was with Bennett last year.

As the veteran, Burton has been asked to do a variety of things for this Alabama offense because obviously, he’s got far more SEC experience than any of the other Alabama receivers. Check out the way his completions set up:

  • Utah State TD No. 1 (5 yards) — Lined up out wide, press man coverage
  • Utah State TD No. 2 (2 yards) — Lined up in slot, press man coverage
  • Utah State catch (12 yards) — Lined up out wide, zone coverage
  • Utah State catch (11 yards)  — Lined up inline, zone coverage
  • Utah State catch (5 yards) — Lined up in slot, man coverage w/ cushion
  • Texas catch (2 yards) — Lined up out wide, zone coverage
  • Texas catch (8 yards) — Lined up out wide, zone coverage
  • ULM catch No. 1 (16 yards) — Lined up out wide, zone coverage

By my count, Burton has just 2 catches operating out of the slot and 1 came when he motioned inline. That won’t cut it.

So far, it’s a work in progress to figure out the best ways to maximize his talents. That 2-yard catch against Texas was a bubble screen with him split out wide. That second touchdown against Utah State was just beating his man to the inside on a slant against press coverage. His longest catch of the season was an RPO slant in which Burton looked surprised how quickly the ball hit him in his hands at the top of the route.

Burton has a skill set, but so far, he hasn’t been the “jack of all trades” guy that Alabama hoped he’d be. If the Tide hope to end the season with a 7th national title under Saban, it feels like that’ll have to change. Maybe it will, or maybe Burton’s role will continue to be a source of frustration.

Either way, one thing should be clear to the preseason Burton supporters.

It’s time to reset those expectations.