Packers placing immense pressure on Oren Burks

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 17: TaQuon Marshall
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 17: TaQuon Marshall /

The Green Bay Packers traded up into the third round to select Vanderbilt’s Oren Burks. The outside linebacker will likely play inside for the Packers, making him one of the team’s most important draft picks from this year’s class.

Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson were selected in the first two rounds to help buffer the team’s suspect secondary. Brian Gutekunst took three wide receivers to throw bodies at a position of need offensively, and casted a wide net by selecting a guard, two defensive linemen, a long snapper and a punter on day three of the draft.

Day two ended for the Packers when they traded up for Vanderbilt’s Oren Burks. The 23-year-old is physically imposing at 6-foot-3 and 233 pounds, yet is far more athletic than Jake Ryan. The Packers have needed an inside presence for their defense for far too long. Joe Thomas never developed into a consistent player despite his elite coverage ability.

Blake Martinez played very well last season for the Packers, and has established himself as the team’s top middle linebacker going forward. The team can add as many defensive backs as they want, but until they get a linebacker who can run sideline to sideline, they will still face the same shortcomings.

Burks was drafted precisely for that purpose. Ryan put up solid numbers while at Michigan, but is completely devoid of athleticism. Ryan became the team’s best run defender in his second year with the team, but regressed sharply this past year. The Packers are now looking for someone more athletic and better suited to cover more ground from the middle defense.

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Burks is raw, but possesses the physical skills to overtake Ryan for the starting job next to Martinez. It couldn’t have gotten much worse for the Packers defense last year, and getting Burks should help solidify the middle of the unit for them. Burks was also drafted to help give the Packers a player that is beginning to fit the mold of the evolving defenses of the NFL.

People are quick to make a big deal of players being either oversized or undersized for certain positions. Deion Jones of the Falcons is only 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, but his lean frame allows him to fly around the field and chase down running backs who have made it to the second level. Ryan Shazier is only 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, but possesses more speed than any linebacker in the NFL.

The Packers are desperate for Burks to become this type of player. They clearly prioritized the position enough to have a heightened level of interest in Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch. He was reportedly a consideration at number 14 overall, but after trading back and then up again to number 18, they prioritized securing Jaire Alexander.

The Cowboys scooped up Vander Esch with the 19th pick in the draft, and cited their awareness of the Packers’ interest in moving back up for a linebacker. The Packers have extremely high hopes for Burks, who has the opportunity to make a huge difference for a defense in need of any talent it can get its hands on.

This offseason has looked solid for the defense as a whole. Mike McCarthy finally parted ways with Dom Capers, and brought in Mike Pettine, who has a significantly better reputation around the league as a defensive mind.

Muhammad Wilkerson will inject some pass rush to the defensive line, while Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson are as good a cornerback pairing as the team could’ve hoped for in rounds one and two.

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Developing Oren Burks needs to be at the top of McCarthy’s mind entering 2018. The secondary could improve tremendously, but until they secure some athleticism in the interior of their defense, the unit will continue to hold back the team’s offense.