Anytime you have a draft that infuses ten draft picks, mostly all addressing predraft needs, into a roster that went to the playoffs last year, while also being praised as having one of the best drafts in the league, your own enthusiasm for this team's potential explodes. Some people will complain about a pick here or there. You'll have that. Generally speaking though it's hard to complain about what this team did over the course of the NFL draft. Yet perhaps the most intriguing move of all happened when the Cincinnati Bengals signed undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict.
Mind you. The Bengals decided not to address linebacker during the NFL draft, despite the fact Cincinnati has two linebackers signed beyond this upcoming season. Roddrick Muckelroy and Dontay Moch, selections during recent drafts, are inexperienced, struggling to get on the field for one reason (injury) or another (depth). So on that level alone it made sense to sign a guy, rated at one point as an early-round prospect, with enough promising talent to become a foundation piece in Mike Zimmer's aggressive defense.
ESPN Scout Inc service ranked Burfict as the ninth-best inside linebacker and the 246th-best prospect overall -- he would have been much higher if not for his "issues" during the NFL Combine and during his Pro Day. On the field Burfict's emotions have, well, history.
Described by NFL scouts' as a 'loose cannon', 'head case' and 'undisciplined'. Reportedly was flagged for 17 personal fouls in 35 games played at ASU. In 2010, did not start Washington game after head-butting OSU QB Ryan Katz and was called for a personal foul. In 2011, was benched during Cal game after being called for two personal fouls. Was not allowed to start in MAACO Bowl (undisclosed reasons). "
Despite some apprehension of picking a player with "red flags" or "character issues", the concern isn't so much off the field, which has been a popular criticism of the team since 2006. Rather on the field, and though we can see where that would be a problem, having an emotional presence in the middle of the field, could just as easily benefit the defense as it would cause harm. That being said he would have to learn a level of control before he could be nominated as an eventual Rey Maualuga replacement, if indeed that's the long-term vision the Bengals are thinking.
The Bengals benefit most of all.
If Cincinnati is unable to feel a future for Burfict, who may struggle to control his emotions, then the Bengals release him with virtually no issue. They didn't draft him and the money undrafted free agents sign is extremely cheap. Yet if he does become that eventual heir to the middle linebacker throne, the Bengals reap with a reward of taking a low-risk shot at a player.
So why not?