TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 24: Vontaze Burfict #7 of the Arizona State Sun Devils points and yells at quarterback Matt Barkley #7 of the University of Southern California Trojans just prior to a play at Sun Devil Stadium on September 24, 2011 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
The readers of Buffalo Rumblings have selected 25 prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft to review in the days leading up to the event. For some reason, Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict made that list, so we'll start off our prospect review series talking about the enigmatic junior.
In the 2010 season, Burfict recorded 90 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and was both a pre- and post-season All-American choice. Entering 2011, he was considered one of the nation's best linebacker prospects - despite several red flags - and most draft analysts considered him an easy candidate to be a first-round pick.
Today, nearly eight months later, Burfict's draft stock has fallen so far that most believe he'll be lucky to be drafted. How could one player fall so far, so quickly? That process began well before his stand-out sophomore campaign.
OptimumScouting.com does a nice job outlining all of Burfict's various quirks, starting with a suspension as a high school sophomore (related to academics) and including in-game suspensions and benchings, a well-earned reputation for picking up stupid personal fouls, and a locker room fight with a teammate.
This past August, Burfict threw a punch at teammate Kevin Ozier in the locker room following a practice. The incident was initially overblown, with reports claiming that Burfict "sucker-punched" Ozier, but a fight with a teammate is a fight with a teammate, and those are usually contained to the practice field.
Burfict also endured several incidents in which he was benched for various lengths of time for in-game personal fouls. Those penalties earned him a reputation as a hot-head, a loose cannon and a dirty player, and you can view some of the penalties to see for yourself.
At Arizona State, Burfict also ruffled some feathers for notoriously avoiding speaking with the media. He did not speak to reporters after the fight with Ozier, and he routinely slipped by assembled media after games during the season. Whatever the reason, that may have been for the best, as he bombed in front of reporters at the 2012 Combine, telling media then that he was "misunderstood," and that his "first instinct was to swing on the guy" regarding his fight with Ozier.
On the field, things aren't much better. Weight fluctuation throughout his Arizona State career have furthered the idea that he's undisciplined, and his play - which was always highlight-reel worthy but lacking in substance - deteriorated as a junior. Watch any YouTube reel of Burfict's, and you're likely to come away impressed, as he made plenty of big hits in his career. Watch him throughout the course of a game, however, and you'll see those hits as the window dressing distracting from a hot-headed kid who struggles to diagnose plays, isn't particularly instinctual, acts tough but doesn't play tough, and who struggles to take on and shed blocks despite being one of the bigger and more athletic players you'll encounter.
Burfict has also been disastrous in the pre-draft evaluation process, even without considering his poor interviews with teams and with reporters. Even though he got down to 248 pounds for the Combine, Burfict still managed unofficial 40-yard dash times of only 4.93 and 5.09 seconds, and was slightly worse than pedestrian in other athletic tests (specifically jumps) and in field drills. He was no better at his pro day, where he managed just 16 bench press reps, was generally terrible in positional drills, and where he was outshone by several lesser-talented teammates.
That's Burfict in a nutshell, folks. At the core, sure, there are things to like about him, and his status as a one-time All-American helped him become one of the hottest names in draft circles. For years, however, he's been a loose cannon both on and off the field, highly undisciplined and unable to change, and the fact that he hasn't been able to compose himself to even put up a respectable facade in the pre-draft process is perhaps the most alarming red flag of all. Players of his athletic ilk are rare, but Burfict has not even remotely delivered on the promise of his raw tools. That is why he's fallen so swiftly and dramatically from grace.
To wrap this up, we'll leave you with a quote from a scout on Burfict from this year's Pro Football Weekly draft guide:
"I did not like (Arizona State's) Vontaze Burfict at all. He is extremely undisciplined. He has a soft, fleshy body. He's not tough. I really question his instincts. He fills the wrong holes. He makes flash plays but does not make consistent plays. He's immature, off-base and too emotional. A positional coach will be dog-cussing the scouts for bringing him in."