The Indianapolis Colts returned their top two tight ends going into the 2020 NFL season with both Mo Alie-Cox and Jack Doyle. With both tight ends fitting more as a blocking type, the Colts needed to find someone to fill the move tight end role vacated by Eric Ebron in free agency. Near the end of the offseason the perfect fit ended up being available as the Chicago Bears cut veteran tight end Trey Burton. Burton previously played for Frank Reich in Philadelphia so the signing made too much sense to not happen.
Burton churned out a solid season in Indy as he caught 31 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games played. He also rushed for two touchdowns in what we call the “Trey-Cat” formation. Now as the Colts enter a big free agency in 2021, they have a decision to make on whether or not to bring back the veteran tight end for another season with the team.
Sturdy as a Blocker
While I wouldn’t necessarily call it one of his strengths, Burton was solid as a run blocker for the Colts in 2020. The other players that the Colts have had to fill the move tight end role in the past have typically been poor blockers but that wasn’t the case at all with Burton. He has a more complete game despite being at his best out in space as a receiver type.
He found his most success as a blocker on the edge and out in space. He had some struggles when matched up on the inside against defensive ends, which are usually tasks given to Jack Doyle or Mo Alie-Cox. When the Colts got into 13 personnel with three tight ends on the field, Burton was asked to pull out wide and seal the corner or safety in the box and it is what made that formation very successful on the year.
While it may not have been what he was known for or necessarily his biggest strength, Trey Burton was perfectly capable as a blocker this year. Was at his best out in space against CBs and Safeties pic.twitter.com/PUE5B4yTXS— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 2, 2021
Shining as a route runner
Where he really stood out though was as a route runner in space. He isn’t the most athletic move tight end in the league but he is nuanced and polished as a route runner that allows him to create space for himself. He excels at stacking defenders and utilizing the stair-step technique to create a natural push-off which we will see below in the film examples.
Here is the best example of what a stair-step move is as a route runner. Essentially it is used when running against man coverage. It is when the receiver or tight end leans against the defender before quickly cutting back the other way. This quick weight transfer acts as a natural push-off without the receiver having to extend arms or anything like that. Watch here as linebacker Will Compton is dropped on this stair-step technique on the out route by Burton.
Trey Burton was pretty damn good as a route runner in 2020 especially when he was stacking linebackers on out routes. Makes Will Compton fall on this one: pic.twitter.com/rAPq6rWomT— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 2, 2021
This is another great example against a much more physically gifted linebacker on this clip here. In the playoff game against the Bills, the Colts dialed up this deep dagger type concept on trips to the right with Burton tasked with having to beat Tremaine Edmunds on the out route. Burton stacks this route to the inside and utilizes the stair step to transfer his weight back outside for the separation. Burton doesn’t have the athleticism to beat a backer with the speed of Edmunds but because of his nuance and attention to detail, he is able to create this space for the first down.
Looking at other aspects of Burton’s route running are just as good too. I love how he uses his hands throughout his routes. They aren’t used to push off but rather to break the hands of defenders trying to cover him in order to keep his chest clean and maintain movement in his routes. Look at this route against Preston Smith of the Packers. This is a noticeable mismatch having a defensive end in man so Smith tries to get physical with his hands on the route. Burton has great footwork moving laterally on the route but his hands are also very active in helping him stay clean for the eventual touchdown catch.
His production this year mainly came due to his ability to separate with his route running. This route is an absolute beauty. The safety has outside leverage when Burton is tasked with running an out route. What he does to create the necessary space is he head fakes inside to get the safety moving. Then he performs a beautiful arm-over move to stay clean and work back to the outside. These two aspects compiled create more than enough room for Philip Rivers to rifle a pass in there for the first.
Really nice route by Trey Burton here. Head fakes to the inside and then a nice arm over to avoid contact with the defensive back to create seperation pic.twitter.com/8QaBjHU8BT— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 2, 2021
Final Thoughts + Projection
Trey Burton put together a solid season for the Colts in 2020 and the team couldn’t have asked for more out of the third tight end. When it comes to bringing him back though is where it gets a bit tricky. Burton was solid but he certainly wasn’t without flaws and is upgradeable. One player who they might look to replace him with is Eagles tight end Zach Ertz per a report I wrote about a few days ago.
However if the team pursues other options and doesn’t find a replacement, I’d love for them to circle back and bring Burton back for another year. He shouldn’t cost too much, knows the system and offense, and brings much-needed reliability to the offense. I’d guess that he gets a contract around one year 3-4 million from the Colts or another team but that is pure speculation. If the Colts strikeout pursuing other options like Ertz or Hunter Henry and such then I’d be all for bringing back Burton.