Born Broncos: Keith Burns was a Special Teams standout

A special teams standout for the Denver Broncos who doesn't always get his due credit

Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos / Doug Pensinger/GettyImages

Keith Burns was born May 16th, 1972 in Greeleyville, South Carolina. Before Burns became a Special Teams stalwart in the pros, he was a three-sport athlete at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA. Between baseball, basketball, and football, Burns stood out amongst his peers. His talents would lead him to Texas, where he would start his college career at Navarro Junior College. He would eventually transfer to Oklahoma State, immediately taking a leadership role. After a few games with the Cowboys, Burns would be bestowed as team captain. He would finish his college career with All-Juco and All-Conference honors.

The Denver Broncos would select Burns in the 7th round of the 1994 NFL Draft. Like many late-round hopefuls, Burns's best chance at cracking the active roster would be through special teams. For many, this is an idea to be frowned upon. NFL players are the elite of the elite in their profession. With the exception of specialists, few play on special teams during their formative years. While this would be considered an "entry-level" position on the roster, it would be a role that Burns would soon thrive in.

He would spend his first five years in the NFL as a reserve linebacker and special teams ace for the Broncos. Burns would be the reliable cog in Special Teams units as a member of the '97 and '98 Super Bowl teams. After the 1998 Season, Burns would cash in on his championship success and join the Chicago Bears as a Free Agent. This would be the first of several uniform changes for Burns.

Keith Burns
Cincinnati Bengals v Denver Broncos / Doug Pensinger/GettyImages

After playing sparingly in Chicago, Burns would return for his second tour in Denver. From 2000-2003, Burns re-established himself as a presence on Special Teams and as a key leader in the locker room. Burns would again test the market in 2004, signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his lone season in Tampa, Burns would play in every game and notch 12 tackles. Despite the limited playing time, Burns would find his value back in Denver.

For the third time in his career, Burns would come to Denver and again serve as the face of their Special Teams unit. After two seasons back in Denver, Burns would retire. In 13 years as a Pro, Keith Burns accumulated 187 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, six forced fumbles, and eight fumble recoveries. While his defensive stats don't jump off of the screen, perhaps his Special Teams numbers will.

Burns would rack up 231 tackles on coverage units for his entire career. Yes, 231 stops as a mainstay on Special Teams. That's an average of 17.8 tackles a YEAR for his entire career. Again, while Special Teams coverage is a role frowned upon by most players, Keith Burns reveled in the opportunity. With a consistent presence in coverage, Burns carved out an incredible career as a football player. His skills left such an impression that he was immediately hired as a Special Teams coach upon retiring as a player.

From 2007-2012, Keith Burns was an assistant Special Teams Coach for the Broncos. His acumen would lead him to Washington, where he would be Mike Shanahan's Special Teams coordinator for the 2013 season. He would also reunite with former teammate Anthony Lynn in Los Angeles, where he was the Chargers asst. ST Coach/Special Teams Coordinator from 2018-2020. Today, Burns is the Special Teams Coordinator for the Tennessee State Tigers.

Jason Elam, Keith Burns
Baltimore Ravens v Denver Broncos / Brian Bahr/GettyImages

So, what can we learn from Keith Burns' career? Perhaps several players on the bubble should glance at Burns' achievements as an important lesson. Not every pro player will become a Pro Bowl standout or a Super Bowl Champion. Some might not even get a chance to start during their pro tenure. That doesn't mean that their route to the pros is for nothing.

Keith Burns shows all players that you can carve out a successful career in the pros if you know how to find your niche. To the guys that may be "too slow" or "not athletic enough" for their native position, maybe your talents can be applied to another role on the team. Whether it's an opportunity covering kicks, snapping the ball, or even returning a kick or two, Special Teams will always serve as the equal opporutnity employer in the NFL. Every position has a role there and it's up to the player to maximize it. Surely, Keith Burns did so and excelled at doing so.


So for all of the guys fighting for their spot in Training Camp, just remember, there's always a way. Just because the path you took the pros hits a dead end in camp, that doesn't mean that you can't turn onto another to keep your career going. For every Pat Surtain II, there are several Keith Burns'. Pro Football wouldn't be what it is today without those guys. Take your talents, find your niche, and be the best teammate you can be while doing so. That will be a career that makes us proud.

Keith Burns, here's a BIG Mile High Salute to you. Thanks for everything that you've done for Broncos Country!

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