THIRD ROUND

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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.”

CHRISTO­PHER HANEWINCKEL/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

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.

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