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2018 NFL Draft prospect profile: Oren Burks, LB, Vanderbilt

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Is Burks a sleeper for the Giants at linebacker?

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

As the New York Giants remake their roster in the wake of a disastrous 2017 season, they will be making more than a few changes. One of the biggest will be a renovated linebacking corps built around the newly-acquired Alec Ogletree.

Part of that remake will be finding new types of linebackers to fit a new defensive philosophy. And while it is certainly possible that they could use one of their picks in the first two days of the draft to add a speedy, athletic linebacker, they might also look to find a diamond in the rough on the third day as well.

They could look for a hybrid player like Vanderbilt’s Oren Burks, a safety turned linebacker, to improve their speed and coverage ability at the second level of their defense. The Giants have recently shown more than a bit of interest in Burks, so what could he bring to the Giants?

Measurables

Pros

  • Good size and frame for a modern NFL linebacker.
  • Great athleticism. Moves easily and efficiently in space.
  • Excellent in coverage.
  • Shows a good burst coming downhill, particularly in blitzes.
  • Has good special teams upside.
  • Team captain and defensive leader.

Cons

  • Struggles taking on blocks.
  • Needs to improve tackling. Either goes for hits or is a “drag down” tackler.
  • Occasionally over-runs plays or loses track of the ball.

Prospect video

What they’re saying

BOTTOM LINE

In any other decade, Burks’ lack of familiarity for any position for more than a year would force him into the “tweener” stack and he would be on his way. In today’s game filled with hybrid players and sub-packages, Burks’ background could make him more valuable. He needs to play with more consistency in diagnosing and tackling, but his athleticism, cover talent, and ability on special teams make him a developmental prospect with decent upside.

- Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

Final thoughts

Burks is an excellent example of the “New Age” of linebackers that defenses are fostering to combat the spread systems overtaking both college and pro offenses. He is far from the powerful downhill player normally associated with the linebacker position and instead excels in space, where he can use his athleticism to his advantage.

Burks is a former safety and still plays like it. He shows solid awareness in zone coverage and is able to stick with running backs, tight ends, and even receivers in man coverage. But also like many players of his ilk, he needs to work on his tackling. All too often he opts for a shoulder check or to try and drag ball carriers down with arm tackles.

Looking ahead to the next level, Burks is a good candidate for a role similar to that used by Brandon Marshall (linebacker) or Danny Trevathin -- an off-ball coverage linebacker lockng down the second level in an aggressive front.

That makes it pretty understandable that the Giants have shown interest in him. It was reported that linebackers’ coach Bill McGovern had dinner with Burks after Vanderbilt’s Pro Day. Considering James Bettcher’s defensive philosophy is built on speed and aggression, Burks could certainly be a useful piece. He is generally thought of as a likely late-round selection, but put in a position to play to his strengths, he could out-play his draft position.