Jermaine Burton is a nice pickup for Alabama, but don't expect him to be Jameson Williams 2.0
When the news dropped on Sunday night, there seemed to be a consensus reaction.
Oh boy. Here we go again.
Jermaine Burton’s announcement that he was transferring from Georgia to Alabama was met with a collective groan from the rest of the college football world. The old “rich get richer” cliché was used.
Naturally, the comps to Jameson Williams came out. Williams transferred from Ohio State to Alabama and became a 1-year revelation. Among Alabama receivers, only 2020 DeVonta Smith and 2014 Amari Cooper hold a candle to Williams’ 2021 season in Tuscaloosa. Some (not all) would argue that his early departure swayed the result of the national championship. There’s a perfectly realistic path in which Burton now plays a pivotal role for championship-level Alabama team.
Welcome to the new age of the transfer portal, wherein undergraduates now have a 1-time exemption to avoid sitting a year and there are no more intra-conference restrictions. Some look at it is as crossing enemy lines, others look at it as an opportunity to take that next step.
Either way, maybe let’s pump the breaks on likening Burton to Williams.
Burton is a fine player. He has a remarkable catch radius, his route-running is a true strength and for an Alabama team that just lost its top 3 receivers to the NFL after losing 4 first-rounders in the previous 2 years, it would’ve been foolish for Nick Saban not to pursue Burton. It’s never ideal to go into your upcoming season with your 2 top receiver options being rising sophomores who barely played meaningful reps until the end of the season when depth became a major issue. By adding Burton, Alabama avoided that scenario.
Burton has 2 seasons of starter reps under his belt. As a sophomore in 2021, he averaged 19.1 yards per catch. Among SEC receivers with at least 20 catches, Williams was the only player who had a higher average at 19.9 yards per catch. Some have already made the leap that if Burton put up those numbers with Stetson Bennett IV, surely he’ll become a star with Bryce Young as his QB.
Maybe he will. But a 1,500-yard, 15-touchdown season is too high of a bar for Burton.
Williams was the guy at Ohio State who was stuck behind Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and eventually, Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Anyone who watched that group could understand why it was difficult to get on the field. We really didn’t have a full sample size because Williams only got 6 starts at OSU.
That’s a totally different story than Burton. In 2 years at Georgia, he started 15 games and played in 24. In 2021, Burton played 388 snaps after dealing with various lower body injuries in the first half of the season.
But Burton’s surroundings were much different than Williams’ at Ohio State. This past season, Burton was limited to 26 catches in 15 games. That was with George Pickens out until the regular season finalé, as well as a limited Kearis Jackson playing just 30-plus snaps twice all season after he led the Dawgs in receiving in 2020.
Burton had opportunity. What he didn’t have? For one reason or another, he never had that chemistry with Bennett. Even on Burton’s best play of the year, it looked like a disjointed sequence wherein Burton and the Michigan defensive back lost the ball at one point.
Newest Alabama WR “Jermaine Burton” against Michigan in the Orange Bowl
— Alabama Rydeouts (@MarvinBama16) January 24, 2022
Burton had his moments — the catch against Mizzou was something we need to talk about more — but he’s had plenty of opportunities and he has yet to become that true go-to guy.
For all the talk about how Burton had a better rapport with JT Daniels, let’s not act like it was night and day. Burton’s biggest game to date was Daniels’ UGA debut against Mississippi State in 2020. Burton was unguardable. He had 8 catches for 197 yards and 2 scores. But in Daniels 6 other starts at UGA, here was Burton’s production:
- 2020 vs. SC: 3 catches, 33 yards
- 2020 vs. Mizzou: 5 catches, 38 yards
- 2020 vs. Cincinnati: 1 catch, 6 yards
- 2021 vs. Clemson: 2 catches, 11 yards
- 2021 vs. SC: 3 catches, 70 yards, 1 TD
- 2021 vs. Vandy: 4 catches, 46 yards
So after Daniels and Burton set the world on fire together in that first game, the Southern California natives averaged 3 catches for 34 yards and added 1 touchdown together in those next 6 games. In the 11 games that Burton started with Bennett in 2021, they averaged 33.6 receiving yards. Granted, the catches were cut in half and they never quite had a night quite like the 2020 MSU game (the 2021 Mizzou game was close).
That’s worth remembering because Burton’s entrance into the portal was announced on the same day that we found out that Bennett was returning and that Daniels was leaving Georgia. That didn’t feel like a coincidence.
For Burton, it makes a ton of sense why he went to Alabama. Well, assuming one can get past the idea of joining the very program that once stood in the way of college football immortality. From an on-field standpoint, signing up to play with the Heisman Trophy winner is never a bad thing. Young’s skill set should benefit any pass-catcher. It’s not just that he has mobility. It’s that Young keeps his eyes downfield, squares his shoulders and more often than not, delivers an on-target pass.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Bill O’Brien can scheme Burton open like Williams. The latter had game-changing speed to consistently take the top off any defense. Williams played 196 snaps from the slot. Will Burton offer that same versatile impact? He played just 75 snaps there this past season. And as great as Williams was, it benefitted him to have a reliable possession receiver like John Metchie to put pressure on defenses.
Who will Burton have to complement him? Ja’Corey Brooks came on strong down the stretch and Agiye Hall also showed promise late, but those guys still need to show that they can consistently get separation against SEC competition. Maybe they’ll take the next step the way those Alabama receivers did as true sophomores in 2018. Or maybe we’ll develop a deeper appreciation for just how great that group has been in recent memory, and it’s by no means a given that the next in command will follow suit.
Burton signed up to play at Alabama in hopes of becoming the Tide’s next great wideout. Williams successfully followed that path, and he came in with the right mindset. Say what you want about how he compares to the Alabama receivers before him, but anybody who was willing to make tackles in special teams like that showed he was willing to sacrifice for the greater good.
It’ll be up to Burton to capitalize on his opportunity. He earned the right to have his pick of the litter. That choice will be dissected heavily in 2022.
Perhaps, though, let’s not determine Burton’s value based on a historically prolific season like the one Williams just delivered.