Arizona State junior linebacker Vontaze Burfict will be one of the most talked about prospects over the course of the offseason. He is a 6’3 – 250 pound MIKE that has been compared to Ray Lewis and is already considered to be in the same tier as Alabama’s Rolando McClain was in 2010, whom ended up being a top 10 selection by the Oakland Raiders. Is he all hype? Or does he have legitimate top 10 potential?
What I liked: I knew the reputation of his bone-jarring hits going in to the game last night. With the high expectations, he still surprised me with how much power he delivers on contact. When he has the time to put everything behind a tackle, he just paralyzes the ball carrier or blocker headed his way. He has a thick build from top to bottom that can sustain straight ahead blocks from linemen with ease. When he plays low and behind his pads, nobody can take him out of a hole. When it comes to his mobility in the box, Burfict seems to always be around the ball. What I noticed most however, was how much attention the Missouri offense was giving him. The ball carriers always seemed to know where Burfict was, and they simply wanted no part of him. Burfict’s presence alone gave the Missouri running game a sense of hesitation, as the backs seemed to be looking for him instead of looking for a lane. While that will not show up in the box score, the impact Burfict had by simply being on the field was huge for the Arizona State defense. That’s something we saw a lot when Rey Mauluaga was playing at USC.
What I didn’t like: Burfict’s biggest downfall during his first two seasons has been himself. He will never be knocked for going through the motions, but he noticeably lost the mental side of the game on a weekly basis. The talk prior to last night’s game centered around a new man; a leader of the Sun Devils defense that had a sense of self-control. However I noticed on a few occasions Burfict’s immaturity when it comes to his on-field decision making. He looked like a guy that wanted to deliver a blow each play rather than a leader trying to make plays. He acted like a guy that knew about his press clippings and Youtube highlight reels. Instead of reacting to the change of direction of a ball carrier. Burfict made one cut on a lot of plays and once he got his momentum moving downhill, all he had on his mind was putting someone on their back. While I like the physicality and intimidation factor that brings, it just seemed like it hurt the Sun Devils defense more than it helped. I want a guy that can play with that physical presence, but also has the mental capacity to read an offense and put himself in position to make plays. On top of that, Burfict looked like a complete non-factor in coverage. Not only did he appear slow in space, but I often found him standing around and watching the action. I need to see more of him to diagnose it as an effort or ability issue, but there is something wrong there. His game centers around being a stout run defender, but a guy that is a 2 down linebacker will not make his way in to the top 10 of the first round in April.