Hey peeps, so this is part 3 of my 5 part series. So far we have covered David Decastro, a Guard from Stanford who is supposedly the next (insert pro bowl Guard here).. and Mike Adams who is an OT out of Ohio State that showed well at the Senior Bowl and had a good senior season.
Today I am going to cover a more controversial pick. This kid is a heck of a football player and has the potential to be an All-Pro for years to come. Before writing this pick off, or discussing in the comments section, please read this in-depth scouting report. So without further ado....
Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State University, 6'3, 250
This is an area that raises tons of red flags with Burfict. Throughout his career, on field maturity has been questioned and he he didn't help himself any during his junior year as the personal foul penalties continued to add up. Too often, Burfict lets his temper get the best of him and is often fouled for action past the whistle. He is an extremely emotional player who must learn to control those emotions as it hurts his play and his effort. During 2011 camp, Burfict threw a punch at a teammate in the locker room but no disciplinary action was taken. The silverlining with all these character concerns is that it hasn't translated to any off-field legal troubles. Burfict will take some plays off, particularly on passing downs when the ball is thrown away from him. He is often in position to use his athleticism to track down receivers along the sidelines but he doesn't always show the hustle to make those plays. Despite these issues, Burfict has been very productive registering over 220 tackles over his three years since starting as a true freshman.
Burfict may be the best athlete at the Mike linebacker position coming out of college since Patrick Willis. While he's not at Willis' level athletically, Burfict possesses prototypical attributes for the position. At 6-3 and almost 260 pounds, Burfict has ideal size for a middle 'backer and has adequate length to help him prevent blockers from getting under his pads. He's a quick twitch athlete with good suddenness which makes it very difficult for blockers to get a clean shot at him. He shows the ability to plant and drive without taking any false steps and has an explosive element to his game. While he has good length, he plays low to the ground and can adjust his path in a flash if he needs to.
When Burfict is focused he really flashes good speed to track down ballcarriers all over the field. He has above average straight line speed and shows good footwork and short area quickness in close quarters which helps him shuffle through traffic to engage on the ballcarrier between the tackles. The only times you will see Burfict playing out of control is when he's not focused and he just throws his body into plays; plays in which he pops upright while going through the motions.
Burfict has ideal bulk and play strength for the position. He is stout and displays a great anchor at the point of attack. He explodes into contact and can easily blow up plays at the line of scrimmage or in a scrum. On film, Burfict seems to have adequate instincts but you'd like him to show better recognition skills for a top flight MLB prospect. However, once he has diagnosed the play he reacts quickly and usually takes smart angles.
Burfict's range vs the pass and run are excellent. He has true sideline to sideline speed and it is very tough to outrun him when he's at full speed in his pursuit. There are times where he is batting passes down 30 yards downfield in coverage. One of the most active linebackers in the country, Burfict can impact a game in so many ways in all facets of the game. His athleticism and phsyicality allow him to be productive in the pass and run game and he's been ASU's leading tackler and defensive playmaker in his first 3 years of playing. But aside from the maturity issues, Burfict's consistency in his hustle and motor are the second biggest concern.
Burfict is a nightmare in the run game. His rare blend of strength and athleticism mixed with his tenacity and physicality vs the run forces opposing offenses to run away from Burfict. Burfict is a strong tackler who can really lay the lumber. He is a forceful and straight out mean tackler who drives through the ball carrier. His strong upper half and long arms make it especially difficult for ballcarriers to run through his grasp. He has the ability to bring down many ballcariers with just a swipe at their legs. However, when Burfict plays undisciplined football he has a tendency to lead with his helmet for the highlight hit and is prone to whiffing or missing the tackle.
Burfict is especially impressive taking on blocks and shedding to make the tackle. He has impressive power in his hips to deliver an explosive pop at the point and uses his hands well to disengage from blockers. He can also uses a quick swim move to maintain position against blockers to fill his gap. He gets into some trouble when he pops upright when he's not focused and gets shielded from the play, but he can use his athletic ability to accelerate to the play to make the tackle. He shows good control and burst in short areas and has a rare ability to quickly square up and explode into ballcarriers after being in less than ideal body positions.
The athleticism really pops out on film when you watch Burfict in coverage and when he rushes the passer. He's like a big safety in coverage with light feet and looks fluid when moving in all directions. What's really impressive is his hip flexibility in coverage to turn and run and then flip his hips back to square up for the tackle. In zone coverage, Burfict shows adequate instincts but could do a better job of anticipating the pass and the routes that cross his face. He gets good depth in his drops has quick hips to redirect to get a hand on the ball to break up the pass. In man coverage, Burfict can effortlessly turn and run with backs and tight ends.
He is adequate at tracking down the ball when it is near him but too often gives up on plays too early. As a pass rusher Burfict's natural athleticism made him a force in college but he will have to polish up his pass rush moves. He has great power to forge his way up the middle but could use his hands better when shedding from an outside track. He's difficult for most backs to block and he can hurdle them if they try and cut him. He has solid timing on blitzes and shows ideal burst to the QB.
Burfict is one of the most intimidating middle linebacker prospects to come out in recent memory. His fiery attitude and nose for the big hit have made him one of the most feared defenders the past couple of years but NFL teams should be weary of his mental makeup and attitude on the field. There are many players like Burfict that dominate at the college level and enter teh NFL with the attitude that their natural abilities will overshadow any character issues they come with. For these players, the light either comes on at some point or they fail to reach their full potential or worse, fail to hold a roster spot. What's most frustrating in evaluating Burfict is how many times teams have strategized to trigger Burfict's emotions and him biting almost every time.
Still, it will be tough for him to escape the 1st round in April's draft with all of his natural assets. He is a very athletically gifted player who is a difference maker as a three-down linebacker, something that is rare in today's wide open game. He has an impressive size/strength/athleticism combination. Dennis Erickson compared his natural abilities to that of one of his former players, Ray Lewis. Speaking in terms of natural ability and playmaking ability, this is not far fetched. The gap between the players is what lies between the ears (instincts, hustle, maturity). If Burfict can every get it together and dedicate himself to disciplined football, his career could absolutely resemble that of Lewis'. The thought of Burfict consistently playing with a high motor play after play is scary as he has the ability to become one of the most feared MLB's as soon as he steps on an NFL field. He is a classic boom or bust player, but the reward is too great compared to the risk.