First-round NFL draft picks face plenty of scrutiny. When the previous two first-round picks for four team – in this case the Tennessee Titans – (offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson in 2020, cornerback Caleb Farley in 2021) didn’t contribute much in their rookie seasons, it adds even more attention.
And when the team that drafts you trades its best wide receiver and drafts you with the pick in return, the spotlight burns even brighter.
That’s life in the first training camp for Titans rookie Treylon Burks.
Burks was beset by conditioning and asthma issues after the draft, but started his first training camp at St. Thomas Sports Park with some dazzling receptions, seemingly ready to put the offseason questions behind him.
But now that the Titans are three weeks into the 2022 camp and Burks is facing the steep learning curve that affects nearly all NFL rookies.
Most times, no matter the talent, success doesn’t come instantly at this level.
Burks had his ups and downs the past few weeks with two fantastic catches in the first joint practice work against Tampa Bay before leaving after one of them with an apparent left leg injury.
Burks returned Thursday sporting a sleeve on his left leg and doing limited work. Yet he still managed to make an amazing touchdown grab in 7-on-7 work, despite not getting to work in all the team drills.
When it came to Saturday’s preseason game against the Buccaneers, Burks got his fair share of snaps, many of them coming late in the game against many players who won’t be on NFL rosters in a couple of weeks.
But it’s all part of the process, regardless of how high Burks was drafted or how much the Titans need him to be a plug-and-play player in their passing game this season.
Signs point to Burks being eased into the regular season lineup. Robert Woods and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine would appear to be the team’s starting receivers, and rookie Kyle Philips, drafted to be a slot receiver and punt returner, has grabbed both those roles for the start of the year.
Burks is still making some plays, but his output has leveled off since his splash at the start of camp. His main goal now is to keep earning the trust of his coaches and teammates.
“I just take it one day at a time and try to keep getting better at the things I need to work at, and just be there for my teammates whenever I can and show them so I can earn their respect,” says Burks, who had one catch on three targets for 4 yards Saturday night against the Bucs.
Still, even small amounts of production can be a teaching tool as the coaching staff works to get Burks up to speed, hoping his skills translate to consistency on the field.
“The thing that I’ve always tried to say with regards to receivers is they can’t control when they get the ball,” says head coach Mike Vrabel. “The only thing they can control is that they get open, and that we can review the film and say, ‘This is where we would like the ball to go.’
“I don’t want to tell quarterbacks, ‘Hey, throw it to this guy.’ That’s not the direction we really want to head,” Vrabel says. “But I was really encouraged by some things that he did, especially without the football.
“There were times he was open, and whether that be for a catch-and-run or some other times where we would like to see a better route. Just continue to progress and work on the conditioning in the game and all the things that are required for the receivers.”
For Burks, his best work has come on the practice field when starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s controlling of the offense. Tannehill says he likes what Burks can bring to the offense after the two connected in drills early in camp.
“If he makes plays like that and wins consistently over there, it gives me a lot of confidence to go in his direction,” Tannehill says.
Of course, maintaining that chemistry and building on it only comes with reps together, which is what Tannehill is working toward not only with Burks, but also with all the newcomer targets he has in camp this season.
Burks has gotten the message and is working toward that goal, even if the payoff isn’t instant.
“One hundred percent, it takes work. If you’re not going to work, it’s not going to be handed to you. You have to go out there every day and work your butt off,” Burks says.
Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com, a part of Main Street Media.