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Former Ravens ILB Zachary Orr plans to return to the NFL with neck condition

At first, Orr might seem to be an appealing player for the Packers, but his play last year suggests he isn’t a great fit even if he is cleared to play.

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Zachary Orr was an inside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens for the past three NFL seasons, and he was one of the better players at his position in 2016, his first year as a starter. However, Orr made waves in January as he announced his retirement from football.

Orr’s retirement was due to a congenital spinal condition that was discovered after he had some mild injuries late last season. According to a press release from the Ravens, the condition involves an upper vertebra that is “not fully formed” and has “openings” which suggest that it is structurally unsound. At that time, the team doctors informed him that he would likely never be able to pass an NFL physical again, which led to his retirement.

However, on Wednesday news broke that Orr plans to attempt a comeback to football, and he’s hoping for a team to clear him to play.

In a strange twist, the Ravens elected not to offer Orr a restricted free agent tender this offseason because of his intent to retire. That makes him now an unrestricted free agent, and he already has his first visit set up, with the Detroit Lions, along with interest from several other teams.

Orr was a second-team All-Pro last season and his raw stats suggest that it was a deserved honor, but crunching the numbers reveals some glaring issues in his game. Orr’s success came primarily against the run, despite recording three interceptions and five pass breakups last year. He was one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL in run stuffing, according to Pro Football Focus, but also allowed the second-most passing yards into his coverage of any player at his position. If Orr could indeed be cleared to play, he would be an upgrade for most teams at inside linebacker on base downs. In 2016, he recorded 130 total tackles and made a few plays in coverage, with three interceptions and five pass breakups along with a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. However, his play against the pass appears to be a significant liability overall.

Regarding the Packers, the first question would be about his health. It appears to be highly unlikely that Green Bay would clear him from a medical perspective. The team has been known to be extremely cautious regarding neck and spinal conditions, as several former Packers have had their careers ended by such injuries. The list includes such names as Nick Collins, Jermichael Finley, and Johnathan Franklin, just in the last few years, as well as other names like Terrence Murphy and Sterling Sharpe.

Furthermore, If Orr’s neck is actually healthy enough to allow him to play football, his run-stuffing skills and coverage limitations might not make him an ideal fit for the Packers’ defense. He certainly would not affect the Packers’ plans to use safeties such as Morgan Burnett and Josh Jones as nickel and dime linebackers. Still, he could be a useful player on both special teams and on base downs as a run-stuffer.

As an aside, Orr has a slight connection to the state of Wisconsin. Although he grew up in Texas and played his college football at the University of North Texas, his brother Chris Orr currently plays for the Wisconsin Badgers — also as an inside linebacker.


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