Vontaze Burfict has to wonder what might have been. (Getty Images)
The NFL may beg to differ, but former Arizona State and current Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict is convinced that he's one of the elite players in the 2012 draft class. The league showed a different opinion by leaving him out of the 253-pick selection process, and Burfict was signed by the Bengals as an undrafted free agent.
"I didn't get drafted like I wanted to, but I'm blessed to be on an NFL team," Burfict told statepress.com after the Bengals picked him up.
"I feel comfortable being coached by him," Burfict of Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "I know that I'm a first, second-round pick and the Bengals got a steal in the draft because nobody drafted me."
Lewis told Burfict that the Bengals had kept their eyes on him through the pre-draft process, and that if he didn't get drafted, they'd bring him in and see what he could make of it.
Burfict plummeted from his one-time status as a projected first-day pick because his raw skills at the position were muted by maturity concerns, a tendency to play with reckless abandon (in all the wrong ways) on the field, a predilection for personal fouls that forced his coaches to bench him at times, and a "training regimen" that caused him to implode with one of the worst combine performances in recent memory.
Burfict didn't always seem to want it in college and in the pre-draft process, but he believes that his desire to succeed will now come through.
The 6-foot-1, 248-pound Burfict had his best season in 2010, when he put up 54 solo tackles, three passes defenses and two forced fumbles. He'll be lining up around Rey Maualuga, a player who's already received a considerable amount of attention and admiration from Burfict.
"I'm going to go in the first week and take notes of what he's doing," he said. "I'm going to perfect my style of football. Hopefully, I'm either playing beside him, backing up or I'm starting. Either way, I'm happy to be on the team."
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As they say ... it's not how you start, it's how you finish. If Burfict can clean up his act and show the skills that had him ranked as the best linebacker prospect in the nation out of high school, he has the chance to erase all the concerns. At the very least, the Bengals are going low-risk on this one.
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