One of the major knocks on Vontaze Burfict by scouts was that he did not have the football acumen for the NFL. Team personnel felt he did not have the kind of mind to break down film the way he would need to in order to have success at the pro level. Needless to say, they were wrong.
There are 31 teams kicking themselves that they passed on Burfict. The leading tackler in the NFL just off his first pro-bowl is the kind of linebacker any team would enjoy. The way he has handled himself on and off the field is a stark contrast to the type of kid we were sold by the talking heads of the NFL.
ESPN's Ryan McGee writes about just how great Vontaze Burfict has developed his mind to learn from the game. He has completed so much film study that he can now recite all of his professional tackles from memory and describe them in detail. From the article, here is Burfict describing his missed tackle (one of only 2) in the game against the Vikings:
In his head, he can visualize the entire sequence. Patterson takes the toss for a sweep to the wide side of the field, bolting for the corner. Burfict feels the play before he sees it. He blows through the line untouched. But as he arrives at Patterson, so does Vikings fullback Jerome Felton. The collision is massive, and as usual, Burfict flattens his target. Patterson is just a few feet away to the left. He's still in the backfield, having hesitated briefly waiting for the block, but he's about to take off.
As Burfict describes the scene, his hands come off the dog and start working on the ghost of Felton. "I was supposed to spin the fullback, but instead I boxed him. I figured Patterson wasn't going to cut it up because of all the linebackers bunched up in the middle. So I boxed him with the fullback and then immediately tried to get off the block."
Now his eyes close as his hands make a dual sweeping motion. "As soon as I got off the block, I had both my arms out. He was right there. Then in one step, he was running full speed to the sideline. I was one step behind it. One move behind it. As soon as I looked up, he was gone. He scored on a 35-yard touchdown. I got a concussion on that play. But I remember it."
Burfict can describe any of his tackles with the same kind of detail. They are burned into his mind from the hours of film study he has committed to getting better. He has become a better student of the game than he was when he came out of college and the Bengals have been the benefactor.
Part of the credit has to be heaped on the Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. Much has been documented about how Lewis pushed for Burfict after the draft and stuck his neck out for a kid who no one else was giving a chance.