Linebacker Oren Burks brings versatility to defense
Green Bay – Oren Burks started his football career at Vanderbilt as a safety, but it was his work as a linebacker and an impressive pre-draft visit that made the Green Bay Packers trade into the third round Friday to select him.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Burks was an inside linebacker in 2017, which was his third new position in as many years after playing a hybrid linebacker-safety positon as a junior and in the secondary as a freshman and sophomore.
His latest position is where the Packers envision using him.
Burks mostly was a zone cover guy, but the Packers feel he has the length, size and speed to also match up with tight ends.
Green Bay moved up 13 spots to get him, trading the first pick of the fourth round (101) and a fifth-round choice (147) to the Carolina Panthers.
“We like his versatility overall,” Packers director of pro personnel John Wojciechowski said. “He’s athletic. He’s going to be able to cover the field when he’s out there, side to side. Coverage-wise, he is definitely going to be able to help us there.”
Burks never got a chance to get comfortable at one position, but his versatility was a big plus and he only helped his draft stock after an impressive showing at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in February.
He ran a 4.59 40-yard dash and had a 39.5 inch vertical leap. That was as fast as almost half the running backs, and the vertical was as good as almost any of the wide receivers.
When the Packers brought him to Green Bay before the draft, it cemented what they already thought of him before he arrived.
“Everything that you would picture a Vanderbilt player to be,” Wojciechowski said. “It was a good visit for him to come and meet the coaches. We just wanted to be positive with what we were getting.”
The visit also left an impression on Burks, who called it a great one.
“It’s something that I have been working for my whole life,” he said about being drafted. “To kind of live this dream out and see it become a reality is surreal. I’m excited to get started and get to work on a championship.”
Burks arguably had his best season as a senior this past season, when the defensive co-captain started 11 of 12 games and finished with 45 solo tackles and 82 total tackles. He also had seven tackles for loss, a sack and an interception.
He put together some notable performances, including 15 tackles against Florida and 12 against Kentucky. Burks had at least four tackles in 10 of 12 games and ranked No. 15 in the SEC in the category.
Burks was a standout linebacker at South County High School in Virginia but made the switch to the defensive backfield during spring drills of his redshirt freshman season at Vanderbilt because that’s where the coaching staff felt they needed him.
He was fine with the move, even if it eventually made him a do-everything talent who didn’t get a great opportunity to solidify himself at one position.
“I felt really felt comfortable being off the ball, being able to kind of get in all the plays,” Burks said. “I really feel like my game kind of got taken to the next level as my production went up. I was able to show off my athleticism and run sideline to sideline and make plays.”
Former Vanderbilt linebacker Oren Burks sacks Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White. Burks appears to have the versatility to play inside and also drop back in pass coverage.