As undrafted free agents began to be announced Saturday night, one Bengals signing stood out above most.
The Bengals picked up Vontaze Burfict, the much-maligned middle linebacker out of Arizona State.
Once thought to be an early first-round prospect, Burfict’s slide down teams’ boards had quietly begun during his senior season but really picked up after disasterous showings at the NFL Combine and his pro day. Combine those concerns with what NFL Gridiron Gab’s Chris Bach describes as “discipline and anger issues” at Arizona State, and Burfict’s fall out of the entire draft seem far less surprising.
Burfict surely fits the mold of talented but troubled players the Bengals tend to collect. He had a down junior season that saw him amass only 69 tackles and five sacks following an All-America sophomore year where he racked up 89 tackles. That production comes at a price as Burfict has a reputation for not being a team player — freelancing and leaving his responsibilities behind — and only looking for the big hit.
ANALYSIS: I despise the way people throw around the phrase “low risk, high reward” any time someone signs a free agent for cheap or drafts a red-flagged player lower than he was projected to go, but I’m close to using it here. Odell Thurman is the only difference maker the Bengals have had in the MLB position since Marvin Lewis came to Cincinnati in 2003. Burfict has that type of ceiling — big, athletic, hard-hitting linebackers with a mean streak tend to do well — but he’s a long road to travel before seeing the field, let alone reaching that potential.
What Cincinnati has in Burfict is a name familiar to many more fans than your average undrafted free agent, a player who could stand to learn a lot from some of the veterans in the Bengals’ locker room and someone who has shown the ability to be a top-notch linebacker at a high level of competition.
Hopefully he’s been humbled by the things that have been said about him in the media and the slide out of the draft. There’s still plenty of time for the kid to turn things around and becomes an all-pro, but it’s still far more likely that he fails to make the opening day roster.
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