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Carolina Panthers

Brian Burns comes in at No. 54 on NFL's Top 100 player list

Brian Burns

SPARTANBURG — Panthers outside linebacker Brian Burns got out of the 50s this offseason, at least in terms of jersey number.

Now, he's back in the 50s, as his national profile continues to climb.

Burns came in at Number 54 on the NFL's Top 100 player list Friday night on NFL+, as voted by other players. That's up from Number 76 last year, after his second straight Pro Bowl campaign.

He recorded 12.5 sacks last season, breaking through the double-digit barrier for the first time. He has 38.0 sacks in four seasons. For purposes of context, Hall of Honor defensive end Julius Peppers had 40.5 sacks in his first four seasons.

Veteran linebacker Shaq Thompson has also seen Burns grow as a leader in his short time here. Thompson's an early-morning guy (and Burns is not), but Burns accompanied him to a pre-dawn workout in Spartanburg already.

"I mean, that's what kind of a leader is; you just got to do more than others," Thompson said. "And that's what Burns is doing."

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New head coach Frank Reich hasn't seen much of him on the field (Burns missed OTAs and minicamp after offseason ankle surgery), but in the few days of training camp so far, he's already made an impression. Reich said he was standing alongside assistant head coach Duce Staley during practice this week, and the visual of Burns was enough to get his attention.

"And, you know, and all of a sudden, you look out there and you see Brian Burns standing on the end of the line of scrimmage, you're like, 'Oh, we better be ready to play ball,'" Reich said with a laugh. "Now, good thing we've got Ickey (left tackle Ikem Ekwonu) out there. And so we feel like that's a pretty good matchup, two really good players.

"And then the other thing, we're all just getting to know each other. But just in a short time, because Brian didn't take a whole lot obviously in OTAs, but just the leadership, he's got a different style of leadership that I think we all feel."

After being sidelined through the offseason, Burns was eager to get to camp this year and has been working out while they're talking about a long-term extension. Not every player in that position will, but Burns said he never considered not showing up for economic reasons.

"And I kind of feel like what we've got going is bigger than — I don't want to say it's bigger than my individual goals because those matter, of course — but I feel like what we've got building is bigger than that," he said this week. "And I feel like I'm a key piece to what we need to get done. So I feel like I need to be here."

It's also worth remembering that he's still just 25 years old and still developing into the kind of player and leader they want around here.

So if he continues to improve at his current pace, he might end up in the single-digits in the rankings someday, just like his jersey number after the offseason switch to 0.

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