Not many times do you see a player with a first round grade turn into potential undrafted rookie free agent within a year’s time. The scenario exists with Vontaze Burfict this year as the 2012 draft is almost set to begin.
Back in the fall of 2009 I traveled to Athens, GA. to watch an SEC football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and Kentucky Wildcats. If was my first time visiting Athens and the weekend mood was somber because the fans and university had just learned a couple of days prior the sudden passing of UGA VII, after only serving as the beloved mascot for a total of 23 games.
The mood around town was also dispirited because the football team wasn’t having a good season. Of the fans I spoke with, most were disappointed with some of the lopsided losses Georgia were involved with. Besides asking the public opinion of who should replace Mark Richt, as the then hot seat for their head coach was reaching a slow boil, I also asked the local fans how were the opposing teams fans that traveled to Athens during the season.
Responses were almost as entertaining as the actual games played. LSU took the crown for rowdiest fans, both pre-game and post-game. South Carolina and Auburn die-hards were explained as their usual selves in terms of mingling with the bulldog faithful. For some though, the one weekend that stood out the most in terms of a team and fan base was Arizona State. More than likely it had to do with a non-conference team making a visit, but there was also a rally for a newcomer on their team, Vontaze Burfict.
Bulldog fans were still buzzing over the linebacker. Burfict totaled 11 tackles during the game by running towards the line of scrimmage with fearless abandon on several plays. Some of the more elder Georgia fans had even made a comparison to a former fierce linebacker who played for Dennis Erickson when he was at Miami, Ray Lewis.
I had watched the game between Georgia and Arizona State on television and seen the freshman play. Burfict was intimidating and his frame already looked the part of an NFL player only three games into his collegiate career.
Fast-forward a couple of seasons later and it’s difficult to determine how Burfict’s pro career will turn out. Going into last year the accolades were there for him on all of the preseason watch lists and he played well enough to garner semifinalist consideration for the Bednarik Award. Draft experts had him as first round talent until recent months. The whispers of having a poor attitude on the field along with off-field issues could see him last until the third day of the draft, if he’s drafted at all. A complete shock for a former Sporting News First Team All-American. For those who witnessed his arrival a few years ago it’s likely they would have never guessed an NFL draft could go completed without his name being called.
With now a little more than a week left before the draft, Burfict hasn’t received a call to make an official visit to any team according to his agent, Charles Price, making the undrafted status a reality. His sub-par showing at the NFL combine in February may have been a deciding factor for some teams who had his name on their watch list. Arizona State’s Pro Day produced a better 40-yard dash time but his bench reps were pedestrian. If NFL teams weren’t already waving a red flag big enough to cover the Grand Canyon, they may have, once Burfict admitted he didn’t prepare well enough for his combine workouts.
A team may take a chance and use a late round pick in hopes of developing a once heralded football player into someone with a chip on their shoulder. If there was ever a team to take risk on Burfict it could be the team who currently has respected and veteran leaders on defense, in-particular the Baltimore Ravens. The Ray Lewis comparison could come full-circle if Ozzie Newsome and company want to roll the dice. Having the voice of another former Sun Devil in his ear, Terrell Suggs, could also help benefit Burfict’s development.
Vontaze Burfict is only one of the many chapters waiting to be written next weekend. My guess is his story will be one of the headliners on the third day, with him being picked somewhere in the 6th or 7th round.