2012 NFL Draft Background Check: Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State

Vontaze BurfictIt was a moment that for many became the lasting image of the 2011 college football season. In a heated game between Arizona State and Southern Cal, Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict menacingly stared down his longtime rival, Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley, from across the line of scrimmage. In those few seconds before the snap, it was clear why Burfict had once been regarded as a sure fire first round pick. There was no hiding his intense hatred for the opposition’s quarterback, something anyone would love to see in their linebacker.

While a picture may be worth a thousand words, unfortunately that photo doesn’t tell the whole Vontaze Burfict story. There are countless other moments that have drawn attention in his time at Arizona State: locker room fights, ejections from practices, benchings, and numerous poorly timed personal fouls. At one time Burfict was considered to be one of the best players in college football – now he may be lucky to just be drafted.

Check out our full scouting report on Vontaze Burfict: http://www.optimumscouting.com/rankings/scouting-reports/nfl-draft-scouting-report-vontaze-burfict-ilb-arizona-state.html
 
An Ominous Beginning 

Burfict had an impressive career in high school, and it didn’t go unnoticed. His passionately ferocious style of play turned him into a Youtube sensation in his junior year.  By the time he decided to go to Arizona State, he was one of the most highly recruited players in the country, and was as highly as the 9th best prospect by some high school scouting services.

Prior to his eye popping plays gaining popularity across the country, Burfict was already running into trouble. The first concerning moment in Burfict’s athletic career: his suspension in his sophomore year of high school. Due to academic problems, Burfict missed the majority of that season. He had fallen so far behind that it would take two years of extra work for him to catch up. While in many cases an issue with grades in high school wouldn’t be a concern to NFL teams years later, this episode would prove to be the first of many, a process that would eventually crush his prospects in the draft.

A Play Foreshadows a Career

Ever since he first stepped foot on the field for the Sun Devils, it’s been almost impossible for anyone to take their eyes off of him. There was hardly ever a lack of big plays (Burfict recorded 69 tackles in his freshman season, while starting nine games), but even in his freshman year he was becoming a controversial player.

It’s not difficult to find the moment that Burfict burst onto the scene. College football fans were introduced to the linebacker early in his freshman year when Arizona State had a prime time match up with Georgia. On a forth and short late in a tied game, Burfict noticed his defensive linemen were out of position. Burfict pushed the umpire out of the way to stop Georgia from snapping the ball. While he wasn’t flagged for that unconventional strategy, it caused a great deal of controversy. After the ball was reset and Arizona State was able to get aligned properly, Burfict burst through the Bulldogs’ offensive line and stopped their fullback in the backfield. That erratic decision making combined with big play making ability would prove to foreshadow what would be a tumultuous career at Arizona State. 

A Volatile Sun Devil

The following two years were up and down for Burfict. One the lowest moments came in 2010 against Oregon State. For seemingly no reason after a play, Burfict walked over to Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz and head butted him. In that same game, Burfict was seen choking an offensive lineman during one play and threw punches on two separate instances. Following that game, Arizona State suspended Burfict for the first quarter of their next game. Burfict’s career was peppered with these incidents. It was these types of episodes – pointless personal fouls where he simply just lost his temper – that earned him the reputation of being a loose cannon.

Burfict didn’t only take out aggression on the opposition – he also took it out on his fellow Sun Devils. In the 2011 preseason, Burfict was reportedly involved in an altercation with wide receiver Kevin Ozier in the locker room after practice. Burfict was not suspended for the fight, and Arizona State never confirmed many details about the incident. Burfict did comment on the fight while he was at the Combine:

“We had an argument, and we brought it into the locker room.  We started chattering about it, he started roughhousing me, he pushed me and my first instinct was to swing, and everyone thinks I’m the bad guy because my first instinct was to swing on the guy.”

Burfict’s junior, and final season with Arizona State proved to be a huge disappointment. He was clearly clashing with coaches and team mates, and while he continued to put up good stats, he often looked disinterested. One of the most telling moments of his junior season was when not one coach in the PAC 12 voted him to the all PAC 12 team, even though he was one of the most well known and most talented  players in the conference. It was clear that very few people around him respected him.

Stock Keeps Falling

If there was any player that needed to have an outstanding pre draft process, it would be Burfict. He’d earned a terrible reputation, but he also clearly had potential and if he could gain some maturity he could be a valuable contributor on any NFL defense. It would be one last chance for Burfict to prove his worth.

Unfortunately, things only got worse for Burfict at the Combine. In answering questions with the media, Burfict blamed everyone but himself for his problems – he stated he was just “misunderstood” and that he got flagged so often because he was a “marked man” in the eyes of the officials. The reason for his sub-par junior season? “The coaches kind of messed me up. I didn’t know if I would start a game or be benched. It hurt me, but I tried to fight through it” Burfict reasoned. 

The concerns about a lack of accountability were only compounded when Burfict actually set foot on the field in Indianapolis. He looked slow (the only linebacker to run above a 5.00 forty yard dash), out of shape, and unathletic in position drills. He repeated that performance at his pro day, leaving many to wonder just how dedicated he had been in his work out regimen leading up to the draft.

Questions around his work ethic were the last thing Burfict needed. Following the fiasco that was his time at the Combine, an anonymous scout told CBSSports.com’s Bruce Feldman “”I wouldn’t touch him…He does have some talent, but he is so undisciplined on and off the field. The guy is completely out of control. There’s no way you could trust him.”

It wasn’t long ago that Burfict had another huge moment ahead of him: having his name called during the first round of the NFL draft. It seemed almost guaranteed. But after three years worth of moments highlighting undisciplined behavior, no accountability, and now exceptionally poor workouts, it’s hardly certain that Burfict will be drafted at all.


Sources:

Burfict’s quotes at the Combine: http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/02/26/burfict-says-hes-misunderstood/
Bruce Feldman’s Burfict Quotes: http://bruce-feldman.blogs.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/entry/31626208/35006810

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