Summary: Vontaze Burfict has been one of the most high-profile and discussed players in college football over the past three seasons. All of that stems from his physical, violent style of play.
Burfict has produced plenty of highlight-reel hits where he knocks opponents silly. His splash plays from flying around the field like a heat-seaking missile and blowing up offensive players has captivated many fans. Alternately, Burfict has plenty of lowlights with late hits, punches, facemasks and headbutts. All of that has earned Burfict a bad reputation with the officials, as a plethora of 15-yard penalties have been called on him the past three years.
As a freshman in 2009, Burfict made an impact with 69 tackles (40 solo) with seven tackles for a loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and five passes broken up. Burfict then had 90 tackles (54 solo) with 8.5 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles the following year. Burfict was a first team All-American. He was an excellent run defender who intimidated opposing players through his violent play.
Burfict didn't play the same this past season, however, and as a result, wasn't as productive. He seemingly restrained his play to try to avoid penalties, yet was still flagged. For the season, the junior had 69 tackles with seven tackles for a loss, five sacks, three passes broken up and an interception. He was benched for the majority of his final two games. Combining that with a coaching change, Burfict decided to skip his senior season and enter the 2012 NFL Draft. He entered the 2011 campaign as a potential top-16 pick, but now looks like one of the final selections of the first round.
Burfict looks like a perfect fit as a Mike (middle) linebacker in a 4-3 defense. He has the speed and instincts to reach the perimeter while also being able to make tackles in the tackle box. In a 3-4, Burfict has the size and strength to play the inside while being a good blitzer on the edge or the inside. NFL sources who know Burfict well from coaching him have told WalterFootball.com that he is not a bad guy; just ultracompetitive, and as a result, can be overly aggressive during games. After an ugly year trying to restrain himself, Burfict should be told to go all out. The team that drafts him should just accept enduring some penalties in exchange for having an intimidating playmaker in the middle of its defense.
Player Comparison: Ray Lewis. When Burfict is playing well, his style of play is reminiscent of Ray Lewis. Both are big, fast intimidators who provide an impact against the run and pass. Lewis was the 26th-overall pick out of Miami in the 1996 NFL Draft. If that draft was redone, Lewis would definitely be in the running for the first pick with former teammate Jonathan Ogden and Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison. Burfict is likely to go in the same general area as Lewis in the 2012 NFL Draft.
NFL Matches: Detroit, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Baltimore, New York Giants
There are a few teams that could use Burfict late in the first round. The Lions need some long-term linebackers, and Burfict could fit on the inside or outside of their 4-3 defense. The Steelers have a lot of age in their linebacking corps and could use a young inside linebacker to replace James Farrior in the future.
Burfict landing in Green Bay would be interesting. They could have him blitz off the edge as a 3-4 outside linebacker in passing situations and bolster the inside on running downs. Baltimore, meanwhile, has to prepare for Lewis deciding the next stop is Canton, and Burfict would be a natural replacement. The Giants have had issues at middle linebacker, and Burfict could fill their need if he reaches their pick.