Did You Forget about Aaron Burbridge? Time to Remember the Name

It's understandable if you forgot about Aaron Burbridge. Heck, some of you might be hearing that name for the first time. Here's a quick refresher.

The San Francisco 49ers drafted Burbridge in the sixth round (213th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft. The wide receiver out of Michigan State posted a modest seven receptions for 88 yards during his rookie season.

And yet, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch opted to keep Burbridge around when they took over for Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke.

"I had no idea what was going to happen," Burbridge said. "Luckily they kept me here. I'm trying to prove to them that they made the right decision by keeping me here. I'm doing everything I can to help the team out."

So what was the reason? Why did Lynch and Shanahan feel compelled to keep a sixth-round pick they had zero ties to?

"With Burb, it started with special teams," Shanahan said. "When I came here and interviewed, a number of special teams coaches spoke so highly of him. He was very well respected in the special teams world around the league and when you do that, there's usually a place for you in this league."

Burbridge was an immediate starter as a gunner on punt coverage in 2016. Even as a rookie, he quickly earned a reputation as one of the best in the NFL. But a nagging hamstring injury kept him in and out of last year's offseason program. Burbridge never really felt like he was healthy enough to showcase his ability to San Francisco's new regime. He was ultimately placed on Injured Reserve on Sept. 3 with a Grade 2 hamstring strain.

His entire sophomore season was spent rehabbing. Burbridge would pop in and out of meetings during the year to get a gist of the game plan each week. The receiver's goal was two-fold. One, to be 100 percent healthy by the time the 2018 offseason program rolled around. Two, to understand Shanahan's offense well enough to where he wouldn't be playing catch up.

He was solid during the spring and survived another offseason of roster tinkering by San Francisco's front office. Now Burbridge has been one of the standouts of training camp thus far. He's firmly entrenched himself in the conversation for the sixth roster spot at wide receiver.

Burbridge is showing that he can be an asset on offense in addition to what he brings to the table on special teams. He's flashed on a near-daily basis and has seen his fair share of reps with the first-team offense. He's impressed during 1-on-1 drills and usually grabs a handful of catches during full-team work.

"I feel like things are going great this year," Burbridge said. "I'm more comfortable with the offense. I've been in the meetings – just listening and putting everything to work on the field. I feel really good. There are always things that I can work on to try to get better every single day."

Burbridge offered a scouting report of himself for those who are just getting reacquainted with the third-year wideout.

"I'm big, physical and fast. I can do everything, and I'm coachable. I'm just out here playing ball."

Back when Burbridge was drafted, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio told 49ers.com that his former pupil could "catch a BB in the dark." The receiver's hands have been on display with several tough catches in traffic through Week 1 of camp.

"That's the type of receiver I am. I'm not the biggest receiver, but I play bigger than my size," Burbridge said. "I'm trying to prove myself. I take pride in everything that I do."

Burbridge has no shortage of competition. There are currently 11 receivers on the roster and everyone has flashed at one point or another. Being consistent is paramount as Burbridge works to string strong practices together.

He'll also have to show well during the 49ers four exhibition contests. While most players roll their eyes at the preseason, Burbridge can't wait to get back into a game environment.

"I haven't strapped the pads on since last August, so I'm ready to play," Burbridge said.

There's a long way to go before Burbridge finds his name on San Francisco's 53-man roster. Still, Burbridge's progress is undeniable. He'll continue to be a name to watch for the rest of the month.

"He's really come around as a receiver," Shanahan said. "He's in this mix at receiver, not just special teams and he's been really good in camp so far."

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