Name: Oren Burks
Pro Team: Green Bay Packers
College Team: Vanderbilt
Draft Status: Third round, 88th overall.
- Height: 6’3”
- Weight: 233 pounds
- Hands: 9 1/8”
- Arm Length: 33 3/8”
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.59 seconds
- Vertical: 39.5”
- Broad: 131”
- 3-Cone: 6.82 seconds
- 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.15 seconds
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Oren Burks is not a linebacker from the old days of football. No, he is far more complex than that. Burks is among the many new age linebackers whose true strength lies in versatility rather than excellence within just one conventional 4-3 or 3-4 front defensive role. He may not be perfect, or even fully developed as a linebacker since converting from safety following his sophomore year at Vanderbilt, but Burks does many things wells enough to succeed in the NFL.
First off, without even watching him play, Burks’ raw athleticism is an obvious strength. He finished top three among all off-the-ball linebackers at this year’s NFL Combine in the vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill, and 20-yard shuttle. Plus his 4.59-second forty time was still above average for his position. If he would have tested as a running back or wide receiver, he would have tested above average in nearly every athletic measure even though he weighs about 30 pounds more than most of them. But really, it’s how Burks uses that athleticism that makes him so dangerous at the linebacker position.
Burks uses his elite burst and agility to quickly navigate through traffic on inside and outside runs. That same elite athleticism also allows him to stick with shifty running backs, tight ends, and even most wide receivers step-for-step in coverage. His ball skills aren’t perfect when targeted, but he gets his hands up and in the face and arms of intended receivers well thanks to his long-armed reach. He can even get around the edge on a blitz when called upon thanks to his flexibility, speed, and body control. Like earlier stated, it’s Burks’ versatility that makes him a true new age weapon on defense.
Beyond the physical side of the game, it’s clear Burks is a highly intelligent defensive mind. And really, his ability to be a successful versatile asset stems from his understanding of each positional responsibility. Burks would quite often adjust his alignment at the last second, fake a blitz, and disguise his coverage to throw off opposing offenses throughout his tenure at Vanderbilt. He clearly understands how to impact the game on every snap and possesses the awareness to adjust to new information before and after the snap. If he sharpens his craft as a hybrid linebacker/safety, Burks could be a monster in the NFL.
Many in the IDP dynasty community want to focus on Burks’ glaring weaknesses when they analyze him. That’s probably because there are many. However, most of the weaknesses are minor or directly related to his positional conversion and “tweener” type nature.
When watching Burks, it’s very clear that his play strength needs some work. That stems not only from his developed habits as a defensive back, but also from his lack of strength and core mechanics in playing the linebacker position. The one area Burks tested well below average (at the Combine) was in the bench press. He tested like an average running back instead of an enforcing inside linebacker. That definitely doesn’t help. When you mix his apparent lack of strength with poor mechanics, doesn’t bode well for earning an every-down role.
However, Burks did show extreme improvement in his tackling and leverage technique in his final season for Vanderbilt. It is easy to see several examples where he gets washed out of a play because of poor leverage and strength (especially against Alabama in 2017). He’ll need to add some strength and receive some coaching on holding and influencing position if he wants to find his true potential.
Lastly, Burks can actually pursue so aggressively with his speed that he overshoots a gap and gets pushed out of the play. Again, that can be resolved with some coaching on properly utilizing his strengths, and adding strength to hold outside leverage when he needs to do so. Overall, his weaknesses are incredibly fixable, but they are also easy to spot.
Here’s where the fun begins. The opportunity in Green Bay is essentially perfect for a player like Oren Burks. Why? Most of the time when a rookie comes in he has just one possible opportunity to fill or fight for. Burks really has three right out of the gate. Let break those down.
First, the Packers generally play a significant number of snaps each game with three “safeties” on the field in essentially a bigger nickel package. But now Morgan Burnett is gone (on the Steelers). It’s clear that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the every-down free deep roaming safety. Josh Jones will likely continue his growth in the typical strong safety role, but drop in deep zone coverage at times. If that happens, Oren Burks could slide into the “box safety” and hybrid linebacker role that Burnett played.
The second is probably unlikely but still intriguing. If Josh Jones slides down into the Burnett role for the majority of snaps, Burks could still function as the team’s third “big defensive back” in their nickel package. He could lineup over tight ends, slot receivers, or drop into deep zones. That wouldn’t be ideal for tackles, but would still net him somewhere around 70% of snaps right out of the gate.
Third, at worst, Burks could (and should) replace the less athletic Jake Ryan as the team’s second real inside linebacker next to Blake Martinez. That role would earn him fewer snaps than either other opportunities, but possibly the most tackle opportunities per snap. Realistically, Burks probably moves around between those three throughout his rookie year as the Packers figure out the best way to use him. Regardless of where he plays, there is almost no way he doesn’t see significant snaps in some role immediately.
The Packers don’t have much to threaten Burks currently on the roster. They’re shallow at safety and weak at off-the-ball linebacker. That’s all there is to it. Even Blake Martinez isn’t a stud as their every down option on the inside. He gobbled up a ton of tackles, but doesn’t offer much in terms of coverage ability. All Burks has to do is beat out a bad linebacker two OR a special teams safety (whoever that may be in preseason) to see real playing time.
The only knock against the Packers landing spot could be Blake Martinez. If he holds the anchor every down position that stays on even in their dime package, then the true upside for Burks is probably capped at LB2 for fantasy. However, if he beats Martinez out by 2020 (when his contract expires) then Burks could become the next big name in IDP fantasy.
Oren Burks will most definitely have a role in year one. The only way that doesn’t happen is if he suffers an injury. His value will inevitably see a spike because of this. Expect no greater than LB3 numbers in year one, but no worse than LB5 production. He is roster-worthy in just about every format for instant impact to an extent.
He likely settles into a role that gives him at least 50% of snaps for the Packers. His ceiling is their every-down inside linebacker if he improves his strength and technique against the run. He should be a flex-worthy linebacker player for a long time.
Rookie Draft Advice
You can draft Burks in the late fourth round of every single rookie draft and beyond. Don’t worry about reaching before pick 50 or so. However, round five has been the sweet spot for him. He probably offers the most upside and safest floor of any linebacker in that round and beyond.
As always, find me on Twitter @FF_TravisM. Look for videos from me using the hashtag #TouchdownTime. And yes, I love to chat about these players. I want to learn from you! Thanks for reading, and keeping living that Dynasty Life!