Move to linebacker brought out the best in Oren Burks


GREEN BAY – Oren Burks did it all during his five years at Vanderbilt, playing safety, nickel defensive back and hybrid safety before finishing as a full-fledged inside linebacker.

The sum of that versatility and experience culminated in the Packers trading up to select the 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker in the third round (88th overall) of the NFL Draft Friday night.

General Manager Brian Gutekunst parted with Green Bay’s original third-round pick (76th overall) to trade up from No. 27 in the first round to take Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander at No. 18, but felt Burks’ dynamic skill set was too good to pass up.

After playing defensive back during his first two seasons, Burks transitioned to a hybrid safety role as a junior. He immediately saw an uptick in his production, recording 59 tackles with 3½ sacks.

A starter in 40 of the 45 collegiate games in which he played, Burks took things a step further during as a senior, moving to inside linebacker on a full-time basis and setting career-highs in tackles (82) and tackles for a loss (seven) along the way.

“I really felt comfortable being off the ball and being able to get in all the plays,” said Burks of his transition. “I really feel like my game got taken to the next level. My production went up and I was able to show my athleticism sideline-to-sideline and make plays. I definitely think my best ball is ahead of me at that position after only having one year.”

Take a look at Packers third round draft pick LB Oren Burks at Vanderbilt. Photos by AP and NFL.

Hybrid defenders with versatile skill sets have been all the rage in the NFL in recent years and Green Bay had an apparent need in the department after hybrid safety Morgan Burnett (Pittsburgh) and inside linebacker Joe Thomas (Dallas) signed elsewhere in free agency.

Burks impressed at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, finishing inside the top 10 for fastest linebackers in Indianapolis with a 4.59-second time in the 40-yard dash.

A native of Fairfax Station, Va., Burks said the Packers were his only pre-draft visit outside his local NFL radius. While in Green Bay, Burks felt he developed a strong connection with the Packers’ brass and the feeling was mutual.

Sold on Burks’ athleticism and upside from the start, Green Bay was blown by his maturity during the visit. Burks also left a positive impression on the scouting department with how quickly he picked up the inside linebacker position.

“It cemented what we were thinking about the player,” director of pro personnel John Wojciechowski said. “‘Yes sir, no sir.’ Everything that you would picture a Vanderbilt player to be and it was a good visit for him to come and meet with the coaches, we just wanted to be positive with what we were getting.”

Although Vanderbilt played a 3-4 base defense, the Commodores had 4-3 concepts in their sub-packages. That varied background should help Burks adjust to the hybrid defense Mike Pettine plans to install in Green Bay.

Burks believes he still has room to grow in his frame, but definitely feels more “like a linebacker.” After celebrating with friends and family back home, Burks is excited to start that next chapter of his career with the Packers.

“It's been something I've been working for my whole life,” Burks said. “To kind of live the dream out and see the dream become a reality, is kind of surreal. I'm excited to get started, get to work and win championships.”

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