GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.
No. 27: ILB Oren Burks (6-3, 233, third year, Vanderbilt)
The Packers traded fourth- and fifth-round picks to grab Burks toward the end of the third round in 2018. Given his size (6-foot-3) and coverage experience (a former safety at Vanderbilt), the expectation was Burks would develop into a starter and potentially a three-down linebacker.
“I think because of his athleticism, there’s more of a need for guys like him,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said after drafting Burks. “At the same time, this is no small man now. He’s over 6-3, he’s 233 pounds, he was the No. 1 tester of the inside linebackers on our board. So, he is not small by any means for today’s inside linebackers. We think he’s very versatile the fact he can play both inside spots. We think his best football is ahead of him. The athletic gifts he has and his two years of experience as a linebacker, we think it’s all headed in the right direction.”
However, he’s been a total nonfactor in September and beyond because of major injuries suffered in August. As a rookie, he suffered a dislocated shoulder before a preseason game and missed the first two games. Then, in last year’s preseason opener, he sustained a torn pectoral muscle. While Burks avoided season-ending surgery, he missed the first month of the season.
It’s not just the missed games, though. There’s a reason why teams hold training camps, after all, and Burks has missed critical development time while healing.
“I was feeling really confident in the defense going into camp and throughout OTAs and everything,” Burks said upon returning to practice in late September. “Just know my role and play fast. Just have to get back to that now. It’s a process but I’m excited for it.”
Because Burks couldn’t get better on the practice field, he’s had a limited role in the games. After starting four games, playing 122 snaps and recording 16 tackles as a rookie, he started zero games, played 57 snaps and recorded eight tackles last season. In two seasons, he has zero forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, interceptions, tackles for losses or passes defensed. In other words, in 179 career defensive snaps, he has made zero impact plays.
Championships are won in December and January. However, in nine career regular-season games in December, Burks has played a not-so-grand total of 17 defensive snaps.
The Packers let last year’s starting tandem of Blake Martinez and B.J. Goodson walk in free agency. The door is wide open for Burks, so long as he can stay healthy long enough to walk through it.
Why he’s got a chance: Just look at the depth chart. Christian Kirksey has played in nine of a possible 32 games his last two seasons. Second-year player Ty Summers, who didn’t play on defense as a rookie, had a pair of torn labrums at TCU. First-year player Curtis Bolton is coming off a torn ACL. Rookie fifth-round pick Kamal Martin is coming off knee surgery, as well. So, while Burks could hardly be any less of a sure thing, the depth chart is filled with not-so-sure things.