General manager Brian Gutekunst traded up to select Oren Burks in the third round of last month’s draft. Adding an athletic inside linebacker makes plenty of sense in theory, but in reality, I’m just not sure how much the former Vandy star is going to help the defense in 2018. His tape from last season is fairly pedestrian.
Burks began his college career as a safety, and he all too often still looks like one at the point of attack. While he weighs over 230 pounds, he plays smaller. In the videos below from games last season against Tennessee and Georgia, watch how easy it is for offensive linemen …. and … to block Burks. In both cases, his inability to make a play lead to long gains. I saw this way too often.
Fortunately, the Packers don’t need Burks to be a three-down player right away. With veterans Blake Martinez and John Ryan, the defense already boasts a pair of inside linebackers who are solid versus the run. That means new coordinator Mike Pettine will likely look to use Burks as part of the nickel and dime packages in 2018. Martinez, Ryan and ex-Packer Joe Thomas really struggled in coverage a year ago.
Based on the six Vanderbilt games I watched from last season, it seems likely that Burks will be an improvement in coverage over Martinez and especially Ryan, but maybe not as much as fans, the media and even the coaches expect. Based on his experience as safety and his impressive measurables ( ), I was a little disappointed in what I saw on tape.
There are times when Burks looks like a former safety. In the video below, watch how he covers Tennessee tight end … in the red zone. Despite giving away two inches in height, Burks uses excellent technique to force the quarterback to make a perfect throw and the receiver to make a difficult catch. That’s all you can ask of a defender in that situation.
Here’s another play where Burks looks like a natural in coverage. Watch how easily he stays with running back — on a wheel route. This is good stuff.
Where Burks’ coverage isn’t as impressive is in the middle of the field. In the video below, watch how the same tight end from Tennessee beats him for a …-yard gain. The coverage isn’t terrible, but considering Wolf’s pedestrian athletic skills, it’s not nearly good enough. And while these are only a couple of plays, I saw quite a few others on tape. And in none of them is Burks facing a player nearly as talented as some of the tight ends and running backs he’s going to see on a weekly basis in the NFL.
The best option for covering the middle of the field is still Josh Jones, but it remains to be seen if the second-year player can be moved from safety to linebacker in passing situations. By letting versatile veteran Morgan Burnett walk and by not adding a safety in free agency or the draft, Pettine will need for Kentrell Brice to step up – something he didn’t really do prior to getting hurt last season (Hmm, if only there was a solid free agent safety or three available).
To be fair, Burks is an intelligent and hard-working young man who’s still learning how to be a linebacker, so perhaps he’ll eventually develop into the type of player a general manager trades up for in the draft. But he’s not that guy right now. On paper and in shorts, Burks would seem to fill a major need for the Packers, but as far too many “experts” still fail to realize, games aren’t played on paper or in shorts.