…: A three-star linebacker recruit out of high school, Oren Burks was a three-year starter at South County and put his name on the recruiting radar as a junior with 128 tackles, 22.0 tackles for loss, 11.0 sacks and three defensive touchdowns. He followed up with a strong senior campaign (123 tackles, 17.0 tackles for loss, three interceptions and four blocked punts) and took home numerous accolades, including First Team all-state honors. Burks was considered a top-20 recruit in the state of Virginia and committed to Vanderbilt over Penn State, Virginia Tech and Virginiak.
Although he signed as a linebacker, he moved to free safety and redshirted in 2013. Burks started seven games at free safety as a redshirt freshman and posted 37 tackles and seven passes defended. Burks started all 12 games as a sophomore and led the team with three interceptions, adding 59 tackles and nine passes defended. He moved to a hybrid “STAR” linebacker/safety position as a junior and recorded 59 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, six passes defended and one interception. Burks moved to inside linebacker as a senior and finished with 82 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, four passes defended and one interception. He was a late call-up to the 2018 Senior Bowl.
STRENGTHS: Checks boxes for play speed and timed speed…flows well with the action to scrape, track and finish…above average length and aggressive hands to stack at the point of attack…physical run filler, powering through blocks…finds his balance in space to make open-field tackles…former free safety and comfortable playing deep coverage…heady and fluid when asked to cover…doesn’t give up on plays with a motor that continues to rev…proven ability to adapt with his versatile experience at multiple linebacker and safety positions (42 career starts)…two-year team captain with top-notch character, serving as the President of Vanderbilt’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee – also voted finalist for campus-wide Outstanding Senior Award for his social advocacy efforts…graduated with a degree in human & organizational development (Dec. 2017).
WEAKNESSES: Lean lower body with knock knees…range across the formation is average-at-best…struggles to recover after a hesitation move or wrong step…takes a precise path on one snap and then a wild angle next…takes on contact, but late to anticipate run lanes and needs to better sift/see through road blocks…aggressive hand tactics, but placement isn’t a strength…doesn’t consistently leverage inside gaps…late to read and recognize route concepts…bad habit of stopping his feet at contact, leading to missed tackles in close combat.
IN OUR VIEW: A four-year starter at Vanderbilt, Burks filled the shoes of Zach Cunningham as the starting weakside inside linebacker as a senior, finishing second on the team in tackles. With his smarts and versatility, the coaches trusted him to play and adjust to various positions over his career, starting at free safety before moving to a hybrid “STAR” role in 2016 and then as the featured linebacker as a senior, the most important position in Derek Mason’s 3-4 scheme. Burks fills with a physical demeanor and head of steam, also showing the play speed to make stops on the perimeter. He has terrific length and aggressiveness, but he can get caught up in traffic and his take-on skills lack refinement.
Overall, Burks has inconsistent tendencies, largely due to undisciplined technique, but he has pedigree and physical traits worth developing.