Rookie Watch: Oren Burks Is The Perfect Compliment To Blake Martinez.

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Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez is a phenomenal run-stopper. However, he struggles in pass coverage. The Packers hope inside linebacker Oren Burks can be a solution to their pass coverage woes.


Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez had a breakout season in 2017. Martinez produced 142 tackles, tying for first in the NFL. He was particularly good at stopping the run, producing 63 tackles in run defense in 38 run stops. PFF gave Martinez an 89.7 grade in run defense, ranking him eighth in the league.

The area that Martinez did not excel in was pass coverage. PFF gave him a 44.0 grade in pass coverage in 2017. This is further evidenced the Packers 21st ranked DVOA against tight ends and 29th against running backs.

This is a 180-degree difference from college, where he graded out has the best coverage linebacker in the 2016 draft class. Likely this has to do with Martinez’s speed or lack thereof. Martinez ranks in the 42nd percentile in speed score with a 4.71 40-yard dash and the third percentile in burst score.

Martinez lacks the speed and burst to cover athletic tight ends and running backs. Thus the Packers drafted inside linebacker Oren Burks.

College Production

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Burks played three different positions his last three seasons with the Vanderbilt Commodores. His sophomore season, he played safety. His junior season, he played a hybrid safety/linebacker role, much like fellow rookie Kyzir White.

Finally, his senior season, he played strictly at inside linebacker. Burks production steadily increased throughout college, culminating in 80 tackles, seven tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, and three passes defended.

Having played safety in college, one of Burks strengths is his pass defense. Burks has the speed and ability to stick with running backs, tight ends, and occasionally wide receivers in man to man. He also demonstrates good instincts in zone coverage.

 

Burks has also been extremely adept at diagnosing running back screen passes. The Packers were terrible against running back screens. They gave up 20+ yards to eight different running backs on screen passes in 2017.

One of the main criticisms of Burks is his size, which affects his ability to disengage from blocks and stop the run. He also has some issues with his tackling form and has the tendency to overrun plays. Regardless, his speed does allow him to blow-up runs in the backfield as well as pursue running backs.

NFL Offseason

The Packers traded up to select Burks 88th overall in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft. Burks was relatively quiet in OTAs and minicamp, playing behind inside linebacker Jake Ryan. He did, however, receive praise from coaches in OTAs, largely on his work ethic.

Burks was given his chance early in training camp when Ryan tore his ACL. Originally drafted to be the Packers dime subpackage linebacker, IDP Guys writer Tyler Joseph (@ONUtyjo) felt Burks was the favorite to win the starting job. The rookie seized on the opportunity early, showing out well in a scrimmage. On the Packers first unofficial depth chart, Burks was listed as a starting inside linebacker.

NFL Preseason Game Action

Burks started at inside linebacker for the Packers in their first preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. He was given an extended look, leading the Packers defense with 41 snaps and six tackles. Burks demonstrated his coverage ability and speed often against the Titans. He also showed some deficiencies against the run. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine had some good things to say as well as criticisms about Burks performance.

In the Packers preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Burks started once again. Taking 28 snaps, Burks tied fellow inside linebacker Martinez with four tackles to lead the team. After struggling against the run against the Titans, Burks demonstrated run-stopping ability against the Steelers. Burks was able to use his speed and lateral agility to stop runs for a loss or minimal gain.

Unfortunately, Burks dislocated his shoulder prior to the Packers third preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. This forced him to miss the rest of the preseason games as well as the first two weeks of the season.

Summary

Former Vanderbilt inside linebacker Oren Burks is exactly what the Packers need on defense. Inside linebacker Blake Martinez is great against the run and not so great in pass coverage. The opposite is true for Burks. With his speed, Burks is able to cover tight ends, running backs, and some wide receivers.

This will help the Packers in pass coverage, which they were poor at in 2017. Burks also demonstrated some ability to stop the run in the preseasons. If this is the case, Burks can be an every down linebacker. With the injury to linebacker Jake Ryan, Burks has a chance to be a starter for the Packers in 2018.

Burks will make his season debut in week 3 against the Washington Redskins. You may want to jump on him early in your IDP leagues before he shows that he can be an every down linebacker and becomes a popular waiver wire pickup.

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Started playing fantasy football with my dad 15 years ago. Still have no idea what I am doing. Just trying to pass on any analysis I can to help you win.

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