Film Room: Caleb Burton is the portal move that could raise Auburn's ceiling
The Ohio State transfer is one of the most talented WRs Auburn has landed in years. If everything clicks, he can be a game-changer early.
WR Caleb Burton III (Twitter)
The majority of Auburn football’s pickups in the transfer portal this offseason have been floor-stabilizers.
The Tigers’ new staff — in the words of head basketball coach Bruce Pearl from Monday afternoon — inherited a roster that “had a long way to go.” There were massive needs, especially on the line of scrimmage, and an overall need for more stability across the depth chart.
Auburn has addressed a lot of those needs over the last several months, and more reinforcements could be on the way over the next few days.
But only a select few of those incoming transfers could be classified as ceiling-raisers — the ones who could change the trajectory of the Tigers in the short- and long-term. They’re not one-year rentals looking for a jump up in competition. (North Texas transfers Jyaire Shorter and Larry Nixon III, who both committed Tuesday afternoon, fit that bill.)
Instead, they’re high-upside pieces with talent that Auburn needs in order to compete with the very best. And Caleb Burton looks like the biggest swing in that department.
Burton committed and signed with Auburn earlier this month, shortly after quarterback Payton Thorne announced his transfer from Michigan State. The wide receiver also arrives from the loaded Big Ten East, arriving from perennial powerhouse Ohio State.
Burton didn’t play during his one and only season with the Buckeyes, battling injuries and taking a redshirt. He also missed time this spring with an injury, and he decided to hop into the transfer portal and look for a fresh start instead of fighting through the uphill battle for playing time in Columbus.
That’s because Ohio State’s wide receiver corps is one of the most stacked position groups in the country, and it’s been that way for quite some time. Just look at the last five signing classes for the Buckeyes out wide:
2019: Signed two of the top 15 receivers in the country — Garrett Wilson (1,800-plus yards and 18 touchdowns in 2020 and 2021 before becoming the No. 10 overall pick and the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2022) and Jameson Williams (1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2021 as a transfer at Alabama before becoming the No. 12 overall pick in 2022)
2020: Signed four of the top 16 receivers in the country and two of the top five —Jaxon Smith-Njigba (1,606 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021 before becoming the No. 20 overall pick in 2022) and Julian Fleming (633 yards and six touchdowns in 2022)
2021: Signed three of the top 15 receivers in the country, including Marvin Harrison Jr. (1,253 yards and 14 touchdowns in his unanimous All-American 2022 season) and Emeka Egbuka (1,151 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2022)
2022: Signed four of the top 26 receivers in the country, including Burton
2023: Signed three of the top 10 receivers in the country
Becoming an Ohio State receiver these days is the closest thing to a guarantee that you’ve got a ton of college-ready talent. The Buckeyes are machines at the position, and even those who have transferred to play elsewhere have produced at a high level.
And Ohio State was on Burton early. He committed to the program in November 2020, a few months after a knee injury in his junior season opener cost him the majority of the year. At the time, Burton was a 5-star and the No. 2 receiver in the 2022 class.
As a sophomore at Del Valle High School in suburban Austin, Texas, Burton had 50 receptions for 906 yards and 12 touchdowns. If you’ve watched highlights of Burton on YouTube, there’s a good chance that what you saw came from that sophomore season.
As a senior, he transferred to nearby powerhouse Lake Travis — which produced the aforementioned Wilson and former Heisman winner Baker Mayfield.
While he finished the recruiting cycle as “only” the No. 10 receiver in his class and a high 4-star recruit in the top 75 overall, Burton was back to his pre-injury self, catching 49 passes for 845 yards and 15 touchdowns at Lake Travis.
And during that senior campaign, before he took a redshirt in a loaded Ohio State wide receiver room, Burton showcased the skills that made him a coveted target by Auburn in the transfer portal.