By Kyle Gilbraith aka TheNati#22

Vontaze Burfict was the highest rated inside linebacker coming out of high school in 2009. A legitimate 5 star recruit and one of the highest rated recruits to ever sign a letter of intent with Arizona State University. After an All-American type sophomore season where he was ASU’s first 1st team All-America since Terrell Suggs he struggled to stay in shape and keep his focus on the field and in the class room. It was also a challenge to make eligible grades to continue his career but he did manage to get his GPA high enough to continue playing. His junior year in college was plagued by inconsistent play and penalties which cost his team some significant losses. Vontaze chose to forgo his senior year and entered into the NFL draft where he was once projected to be a 1st round pick.

That all changed after an awful showing at the NFL scouting combine. By his own admission his performance was average. Not only was he out of shape which led to a 5.09 second 40 yard dash, the slowest of any linebacker to run. His interviews with teams went just as bad. He blamed his coaches for his poor junior year, tested positive for marijuana and showed an all around lack of maturity and questionable work ethic which led to all 32 teams passing on him in the draft. He did not get down on himself though. Rather he switched trainers sought out advice from current NFL linebacker Nick Barnett and continued to work.

His fortune quickly turned when shortly after the draft the Cincinnati Bengals decided to give him a chance as an undrafted rookie free agent, keeping their reputation of giving talented players with checkered backgrounds a chance to prove themselves. After fighting his way to a spot on the 53 man roster and struggling to get playing time at the start of the season Burfict took his chance to claim the starting job when then starter Thomas Howard went down with a torn ACL. He then started 14 games and led a top 10 defense to the playoffs while also leading the team in tackles. He was also in the running for defensive rookie of the year. Which he later lost out on.

It may be a little early to say that the Bengals struck gold on what could be one of the biggest draft oversights in recent memory but it is clear that Vontaze Burfict is on a mission to prove his naysayers wrong. Having always been a physically talented and instinctual player, the chance the Bengals gave him was not wasted. He showed why he was once rated the best inside linebacker and a potential early round draft choice. Entering his second year and backed with a young group of talented core players I really believe his career is looking very promising. Against the 2 biggest division rivals in the AFC north he had some of his finest games. Racking up 18 tackles in the finale against the Ravens and 15 tackles in the mid season match with the Steelers.

Vontaze Burfict has quickly become one of my favorite players to watch and to collect. I usually collect defensive players because my funds are not up to par with the high end guys like A.J. Green and top end national treasures of Andy Dalton. I am usually looking to spend $50 or so here and there and usually make a couple purchases a month. I am very happy that I now have a defensive player with unlimited potential to collect from my favorite team. I hope that he and the Bengals continue to grow as a unit and keep us fans entertained for years to come.

His story is that of a true underdog. Growing up in a rough neighborhood, having a father that was in a gang, dealing drugs and in prison for most of his life, he stayed the course looking to make the most of the chances he was given. His story should be an inspiration to many. Showing that we all have bumps in the road and we will all have our doubters, it is what we do with our opportunities and what we learn from our trials that define us.