Is ASU’s Burfict the Next Elite NFL Linebacker?
Coming out of high school, he was the No. 1 ranked middle linebacker in the nation. He is the highest ranked high school player to ever sign a letter of intent to play football for ASU.
The first thing that grabs you by the throat about Burfict is how ferocious of a competitor he is. Whenever he’s on the field, you can tell where he is simply by the smoke billowing out of his ears and nostrils. The monster inside of him wreaks havoc in ways most players can only dream of when he plays under control. When a ball-carrier finds himself face to face with Burfict, the end result is something similar to a train wreck.
The real downfall to this tenacity and ferocity is the fact that he can let his emotions get the best of him. During ASU’s game against Oregon State last season, Burfict was benched with only two and half minutes remaining and the game on the line because he couldn’t control his temper. On one play, he gave the opposing quarterback a headbutt after the play had already ended, resulting in an unnecessary roughness penalty. The next play, he shoved his blocker after the whistle blew and then pushed his own teammate away after he tried to calm Burfict down. He was forced to sit out the rest of the game, which eventually went in Oregon State’s favor.
More than anything, Burfict needs to find some discipline in his game. All too often, he looks for the big hit instead of wrapping up and making the secure tackle. Especially in coverage, he puts his head down when he tries to take down receivers, often ending in a missed tackle. When the ball goes away from him, especially on interceptions, he looks for an unsuspecting offensive lineman to tee off on. He needs to focus less on mutilating other players and more on honing his skills as a premier football player.
Burfict has too much talent and is too physically gifted to let a poor attitude and immaturity ruin it. Almost every game during the 2010 season, Burfict was called for either a face mask penalty or unnecessary roughness because he hit someone after the play was already over. He has a tendency to take plays off and jogs when he feels that he’s already out of a play. I also noticed a few instances when beats himself up for a missed tackle, which results in a further decline of his play.
However, when he sets all of his mental issues aside and gets his head on straight, this guy is a treat to watch from both technique and play-making perspectives. He reads runs, passes and screens extremely well, and reacts accordingly. Although he sometimes struggles to step up into the hole during runs, he takes on blockers with outstanding strength while keeping his eyes on the ball-carrier. When he does read the run properly and fills the hole with power, it is lights out for the runner. Burfict can play sideline to sideline well and rarely over-pursues the ball. Even in pass coverage, he does a solid job despite needing some more consistency with keeping his head on a swivel.
The most impressive part of his game, however, is his ability to make open-field tackles. On several occasions this past season, he made highlight-quality shoe-string tackles on quick, shifty players like Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers or Oregon’s Darron Thomas. When he doesn’t try to make bone-crushing hits, he actually possesses one of the most impressive wrap and roll tackles I’ve ever seen. If he could learn to tackle like that on every play and not worry so much about creating massive collisions, he’d be a tackling machine.
Overall, Burfict is the prototypical middle linebacker that every NFL team would love to have. He has a tremendous mix of size, speed and power that make him lethal against any offense. Whether he’s making a shoe-string tackle or blowing up a play in the backfield, he has proven himself to be a disruptive force that keeps opposing offensive coordinators up at night.
At the end of this upcoming season, Burfict will most likely take the leap to the NFL. If he can show some improved maturity and ability to keep a cool head during games, I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t be a Top 10 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. In the end, how successful Burfict will be comes down to whether or not he can buckle down and harness the mental toughness it takes to be an elite NFL linebacker.
Originally published on Rivals.com