In the later rounds of the draft, there are quite a number of surprise picks – guys no one’s heard of or who were pegged to be taken much later. Seldom, however, does this happen with a top-100 choice. So when Brian Gutekunst sent in his pick at No. 88, late in the third round, Packers fans were waiting to see if it would be an edge rusher or a receiver.
Neither: it was Vanderbilt’s Oren Burks. Surprise one is that the Packers chose an inside linebacker – a position that was not considered to be a high priority.
Burks is long-armed and lanky, at 6’3” and 233 pounds. His dash time (4.59), jumps and agility test scores were all 81 percentile or higher. Only his weight and bench press reps were below average for a linebacker. He’s maybe too lean, but there’s a cure for that.
Burks essentially played three years at Vandy, where he was originally a safety. His numbers are modest. After being an injured redshirt freshman, his next three seasons produced 59, 59 and 82 tackles; three, one and one interceptions, and six, six and three pass breakups. He converted over from a safety to a linebacker in his junior year, a season in which he also garnered 3.5 sacks.
Despite his college and combine numbers, most forecasters viewed him as a round 4 or 5 prospect. Before the NFL combine, Burks was viewed lower still. Surprise two is that most teams didn’t have him nearly so high on their boards.
Why Gutekunst Chose Burks
The Packers have been talking a lot about a hybrid linebacker/safety, even before defensive coordinator Mike Pettine arrived. Josh Jones had a brief trial at it early last year. Morgan Burnett largely fulfilled the role, but he’s now in Pittsburgh. Burks personifies “hybrid.” Can you think of any other NFL linebacker who converted over from being a college safety for two years?
The Vanderbilt sports web site says:
“The multi-faceted defender covered roles ranging from secondary help to pass rusher in his five years at Vandy, using his blend of size and athleticism to give Mason a Swiss Army Knife patrolling the second level… a hybrid linebacker-safety who could sneak up to the line of scrimmage and wallop tailbacks or drop into coverage and play centerfield against the SEC’s top passing attacks.”
But what probably sealed the deal for Gutekunst was that monster NFL combine performance. We’ve seen Gutekunst’s picks almost across the board reflect high athleticism and Burks is no exception.
When asked about the pick, Gutekunst confirmed he was the “number one tester on our inside linebacker board.” He said he traded up 13 slots – surprise three – to assure he’d get Burks, as he didn’t want to take the chance that someone else would pick him off.
Oren Burks was hand-picked to become a big cog in Pettine’s defensive schemes. Though he probably won’t command a starter’s job as a rookie, if he lives up to the Packers’ appraisals, expect him to get plenty of playing time and especially in some critical third down situation.