In only a few months, Burfict went from roster longshot to starter, proving just about every NFL team that skipped him over during the 2012 NFL Draft wrong. Meanwhile, the Bengals enjoyed the emergence of a rookie linebacker who was once considered a volatile character and lazy athlete.
After showing that he could focus his efforts on football – with some help from the Cincinnati coaching staff – Burfict took over as the starting weak-side linebacker and never looked back. Throughout his rookie campaign, Burfict racked up a team-high 127 total tackles, one sack and two defended passes in 16 games (14 starts). Although he struggled a bit in pass defense and was generally ineffective when blitzing, Burfict proved productive against the run.
Beyond the production, Burfict has a ferocious, hard-nosed mentality that the Bengals need at the heart of their defense. He’s become the posterboy for a troubled player turned difference-maker, and is the perfect type of leader to take the Cincinnati defense forward.
If re-signee Rey Maualuga disappoints during training camp, the Bengals could move Burfict inside to take over the middle linebacker role while moving someone like Emmanuel Lamur or rookie Sean Porter into the weak-side role. Middle linebacker is Burfict’s natural position, so Maualuga will be on thin ice the next couple of months.
The 22-year-old Burfict is one of the top up-and-coming linebackers in the NFL. Whether it’s on the inside or outside, the second-year stud will surely have a big season in 2013 as the Bengals continue to help him overcome his demons.