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Brian Gutekunst Pulled Off One of Draft’s Bigger Surprises

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.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. Adam May 1, 2018

    It’ll be interesting to see what this guy does or doesn’t develop into. Out of the entirety of the draft, I think this pick has the most risk/reward factor, and might end up being the deciding factor in how we all evaluate this overall draft class in a year or two. Gute will either be a genius for seeing impactful talent where others didn’t, or we’ll be talking about this as a shitty reach for a project guy when there were better picks on the board… much like we have been for the majority of TT’s picks over the past 5 seasons.

  2. Kato May 1, 2018

    Brian Urlacher was a college safety/linebacker hybrid. Actually, their measurables are very similar except on bench. Probably a bit of a reach but I envision him in subpackages matching up on tight ends because of his athleticism. I have to imagine his athletic ability and his versatility were too attractive for the Packers to pass up

  3. Howard May 1, 2018

    Could only find two game tapes of Burks against Alabama and Tennessee. In both game Burks struggled in the run game. He had a hard time getting off blocks and tackling. Burks also seemed to overrun alot of potential tackles. Burks did seem to have tight coverage in the pass game. Will probably be given a shot at Dime linebacker. Could be a liability in the run game, but I think Pettine knows the daggers usually come in the pass game. If the weather or the opponent dictated a slug it out game, Burks would probably see few, if any defensive snaps at least this year.

    I don’t recall seeing Burks blitz. My recollection is when Pettine was DC for the Jets they would have good luck getting to the QB by sending the ILB’s. Ryan and Martinez don’t seem to have a feel for blitzing. Sure some of that is speed. Burks speed and length may have been considered as a potential weapon in blitzing the QB from the inside. The Packers have been very poor at getting to a QB when blitzing up the middle at least with Ryan and Martinez. Hate to repeat but QBs hate quick pressure up the middle.

  4. KILLER May 1, 2018

    “Pulled off one of draft’s bigger surprises” or is it more like “made one of draft’s biggest reaches”?

    Burk has good speed. Good, not great. For his size it is better than average. Look, the Vikes got a 260 lb. DE in round 6 who runs a 4.6 40. Now. That. Is. Fast.

    It’s kind of funny to me that the Packers took so much heat for changing the positions of so many players — and with little to no success — so now they are doing it under the radar in which they find a player that his college team changed his position so they don’t have to take the heat.

    Boil it down: The Packers gave up the first pick in the 4th round (basically a late 3rd round pick) and a 5th rounder to move up 13 spots to get a guy who would have been available anyway at their 4th round pick and who was not worth that 4th and probably not the 5th round either. There were much better players available including at least 2 at his same position. Gute the Bad could have sat there and gotten two players both better than Burks.

    The Packers were fortunate to get that 2019 pick from the Saints. But, make no mistake: That was good fortune and Saints foolishness, not Gute the Bad brilliance. He did not make that happen. You need the right spot and the right fool and for Mars to align with Saturn in the house of Aries with the Pleiades ascending.

    Gute the Bad still is and continues to be Gute the Bad.

    1. Drater May 1, 2018

      Completely agree with your post – this really felt like a TT pick by trading up and then reaching for a player that would have been available a round or two later.

      To be fair, I loved the first two rounds and like the upside of the 3 WRs taken in the later rounds. I am also warming up to the punter chosen in the 5th round; especially after reading about him kicking off and being a good holder. If the long snapper makes the roster, and makes the position a non-issue for the next 7 – 10 years, then it’s well worth a 7th round pick

      1. KILLER May 1, 2018

        I think the WRs are good ones, also. J’mon Moore especially after watching video and really getting the overall picture. Those slants into the end zone with long-striding confidence while using his body to wall off the defender looked… unstoppable. And I have no idea how St. Brown lasted until the 6th. Damn, Gute the Bad should have taken HIM in the 3rd!

        I don’t understand all the trendy criticism of the 3 punters taken in the 5th round. Punters are a huge factor in the game. Not 1st or 2nd round factor but 5th? Definitely. Some argue, persuasively, that punters make a greater impact in the game than do placekickers.

  5. Gil Thorp May 1, 2018

    Brad Van Pelt was a college safety who became a very good NFL linebacker.

  6. Kato May 1, 2018

    Lol at the Vikings fan giving his take on the packers draft. Yeah, he has good speed, but not elite speed. However, he also had a 39.5″ vertical, while posting a 10’11” broad jump, demonstrating great lower body explosiveness. What lonely boy fails to point out is that players tend to change body type all the time when they get to the NFL. Players put on or drop weight all the time. Burks issue getting off blocks could be a strength issue, or even a technique issue that is coachable, or a combination of both. From what I have seen, he seems to be a sound tackler. At very least he will be valuable in pass coverage as a linebacker/safety hybrid ala a Mark Barron, if he can never become a three down player in the box. A bit of a reach, yeah. But really a lot of drafting prospects is projecting the athlete’s fit in your scheme or his ability to play different positions effectively. I will tell you right now, without him playing a down in the NFL I strongly prefer him covering TEs and RBs down the field than AJ Hawk or Joe Thomas.