When the Bengals pursued former Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict as a 2012 college free agent, they knew that they had a diamond in the rough. Even still, Cincinnati's coaching staff also knew that getting that diamond to shine was going to take a lot of work. It was a gamble, but with Burfict's first NFL regular season in the books, we can call it a success.
But, just how big of a success was it? Aside from leading the squad in total tackles with 127, Burfict also led the team in tackles for loss with 7.5. The stat gurus at ESPN (John McTigue, specifically), dug into the value of Burfict to the Bengals defense and the outcomes are staggering.
The biggest? How about the difference in yards per play when Burfict wasn't on the field. McTigue and Co. found that Burfict was on the field for 858 defensive snaps and off of it for 175.
Burfict’s presence on field made a notable difference for the Bengals this season. When Burfict was on field, the Bengals defense allowed 2.4 yards fewer per play compared to when he was off the field.
How big of an impact was that? There were 230 players this season who were on field for at least 500 plays and off the field for 100-or-more plays. In that sample, no player’s team took a bigger hit when going off field than the Bengals did with Burfict.
That's huge, even when Burfict's strength isn't perceived to be against the pass. To be more exact, the difference in rush yards per play was 2.8 (6.4 to 3.6) and the difference in pass plays was 2.4 (8.7 to 6.3). For you uber-math nerds out there, at 127 total tackles in 858 plays, that equates to Burfict being involved in a tackle 15 percent of the time. With it being a passing league and having ten other defenders, that's pretty impressive as well.
As the saying goes, "there are lies, damn lies and then there are statistics". The stats tell a story here: not bad for a supposedly "troubled" player who did a nosedive in the draft last April.