Rarely in sports do you see a player so highly touted in one year fall miserably in the draft the following year. Sure, players fall lower than expected, maybe a few picks or even a round later than projected, but very few have been in the situation that Vontaze Burfict found himself in back in April.
In 2011, Burfict was a sure top 10 pick going into the 2012 NFL Draft. Arizona State entered the season with high expectations, and Burfict was right in the middle of them. But a combination of factors led to a disappointing season for the Sun Devils, and a plummeting draft stock for Burfict.
Even before the season, there were concerns over his character. Those concerns weren’t made any easier by the fact that Burfict appeared to pack on the pounds and slowed down. As the season wore on, his draft stock declined, and the projections got worse and worse.
Burfict ended up an undrafted free agent, signing with the Cincinnati Bengals after the draft. It was thought that the team that signed him after the draft, and took a risk, may have gotten a steal in grabbing him. Halfway through the 2012 season, that certainly appears to be the case.
The turnaround from Vontaze has been really something to watch this year. He has begun to quell those character concerns and turned in a very strong performance at middle linebacker for the Bengals.
On the season, Burfict has 54 tackles already. He’s on pace to break the Bengals’ rookie record for tackles in a season. He also has a fumble recovery and a sack to his credit at the halfway mark of the season. Somewhat quietly, Burfict has garnered some attention for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
It’s really a stunning turnaround, given where he was just six months ago, sitting on his couch watching every team pass on him back in April. The Bengals gave him a chance, and they’re being rewarded for it with a strong performance.
Marvin Lewis has clearly done wonders with Burfict in Cincy. At ASU, Burfict played under the now-unemployed Dennis Erickson. Erickson was notorious for his lack of discipline, which certainly didn’t help to make Burfict any more attractive when the draft rolled around.
We’re only halfway through the season, but it really has been something to watch Vontaze Burfict make the strides that he has this year. It may not come as a surprise, given his enormous level of talent, but this is a guy who could eventually emerge as an elite defensive player in the future. He’s certainly a player to watch, not just in Cincinnati, but around the league moving forward.