Lions' Michael Burton adds weight to NFL pursuits

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Anyone who saw Michael Burton the past few months likely witnessed him eating as he worked his way up to a better NFL playing weight.

A former Rutgers fullback, the Lions drafted Burton in the fifth round this year, and he arrived in Allen Park weighing about 250 pounds after finishing his senior season closer to 230.

"It was just eating clean, but constantly eating," he said. "(I was) waking up in the middle of the night taking a protein shake."

As it turns out, achieving a dream often includes midnight snacks. But, as the late-night protein shakes indicate, Burton wasn't pigging out on fast food. He said the menu consisted of grilled chicken, lean steak, fish, brown rice, pasta, nuts — clean calories and a lot of them.

"That's what it takes, though," he said. "To be able to do that, I just zoned in, focused in and did what I needed to do. And I'm glad because I definitely feel very good on the field right now."

Burton said NFL teams told him they wanted him closer to 245 or 250 pounds, and now that he's with the Lions, he's willing to gain weight or lose it depending on what the strength and conditioning coaches request.

Even though he bulked up to 250 pounds quickly, he felt comfortable with the excess weight during rookie minicamp last weekend.

And now that he's added the weight, Burton can focus on smashing other things.

"A fullback's mentality is smash-mouth football," he said. "That's what you've got to have and that's what I have. I love contact. I love being the guy that springs the open run."

Burton effectively made his choice to do the grunt work out of high school. Without an offer to play running back at a Football Bowl Subdivision program, the New Jersey native decided to walk-on at Rutgers, and by his redshirt freshman season, his transformation into a fullback was complete.

As a high school senior, he had 200 carries for 1,769 yards and 20 touchdowns, but he had just 22 carries during his college career. Fortunately for the Lions, he said he prefers taking out a player to open a hole for his teammate than being the one carrying the ball.

Like most fullbacks, Burton was also one of Rutgers' core special teams players, which gave him added value coming into the NFL. Playing under Lions tight ends coach Ron Prince, who was Rutgers' offensive coordinator in 2013, also made him more attractive to the Lions.

Seeing him at 242 pounds at the combine in February helped, too.

"Yeah, he looks good," general manager Martin Mayhew said after the draft. "I saw him at the combine. I didn't know what he weighed when the season ended, but he's a good-looking, physical guy. Fullback, you want a guy that's durable. You want a guy that can do multiple things. … This guy plays special teams, catches the ball out of the backfield, can lead block. He can do so many different things. We like him for that reason."

Words like "throwback" are often used to label fullbacks these days as the NFL has shifted more toward passing. But the Lions featured fullback Jed Collins on an average of 17 snaps per game last year and plan on being a better run team this year, which could result in more opportunities for Burton.

And, as Mayhew said, they do more than just line up in the I-formation and clear holes for tailbacks.

"I think you just need to love the game," Burton said of playing the position. "You've got to be competitive about the game, and that's what I am. When I'm out there, I'll do whatever it takes to help my team win."