Stephen Burton primed for breakout year with Vikings

During the 2011 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings spent a seventh-round pick on a small-school wide receiver with big potential and unmistakable rawness. That wide receiver, West Texas A&M product Stephen Burton, stumbled throughout the season despite his upside and didn’t see the field until the season was already a lost cause.

Luckily for Burton, his sophomore slump came a year early. With the entire 2011 NFL campaign under his belt and a full offseason with the Vikings on the agenda, Burton is ready to live up to the potential that got him drafted.

Beginning in the offseason and lasting through the regular season, Burton had his fair share of struggles in 2011. He turned in a couple discouraging plays during training camp, including one where he appeared to bat down a go-ahead touchdown pass, and looked lost at times while battling with the Vikings’ playbook. Although he suited up for three games at the end of the 2011 season as depth continued to dwindle, Burton only managed to notch two catches for 38 yards as hopes for a bright future with the Vikings began to fade.

That was, until the Vikings’ 2012 offseason program got under way and the young wide receiver began to flourish. After injecting a hearty helping of confidence into his game during the downtime, Burton showed up at Vikings camp ready to put his physical talents on display. While Harvin sat on the sidelines nursing his surgical-repaired shoulder, Burton stepped in as the Vikings’ first-team slot receiver and showed off his outstanding athleticism day in and day out.

Combining great size (6’1’’, 224 pounds) with terrific speed (4.4 in the 40), Burton provides the Vikings passing attack with a target that many defensive backs will find hard to cover. He has the hands to make tough catches look effortless and the athleticism to climb the ladder for jump balls. If he’s not stretching the field with his feet, he’s using his big frame to box out cornerbacks and haul in passes all over the field.

It’ll be tough for Burton to find consistent snaps once the regular season starts with talent like Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson cluttering the depth chart. Rookie talents like Greg Childs and Jarius Wright could also cut down on Burton’s playing time. That, however, doesn’t mean that the former West Texas A&M stud won’t find a way to crack the lineup and prove that small-school prospects can make their mark on the NFL too.

Burton may not be the field-stretching flanker the Vikings’ offense so desperately needs, but he’s the type of youngster that fans love to root for with the passion to leave a lasting impression in Minnesota.

Follow Gil Alcaraz IV on Twitter.

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