Bengals linebacker Votaze Burfict has taken the hard road to NFL stardom, but he's become a start nonetheless. After going undrafted out Of Arizona State in 2012, Burfict has become one of the best LBs in the game in just two years.
Matt Miller of the Bleacher Report is in the midst of his ranking the best players at every position, and he ranked Burfict as the third-best outside linebacker in the league, primarily because of his elite run defense:
This is where he’s on lockdown. Burfict is strong enough to take on blockers and shed them to get to the ball-carrier, and he’s super-instinctive about finding the runner and cutting through traffic. In space he’s fast enough to close on the run and squeeze the play inside. Few defenders take on blockers like he does, and by always keeping an arm free, he’s able to be consistently effective.
Nine missed tackles compared with 123 solo takedowns is just fine by us. Burfict is one of the most aggressive, violent hitters in the NFL. He loves contact and isn’t afraid to mix it up in traffic or in space. He’s strong enough to leave a mark on ball-carriers when they come his way.
Miller ranked only Lavonte David of the Buccaneers and Von Miller of the Broncos ahead of him. That seems about right, though it won't be a surprise if Burfict is his number 1 OLB when he does his 2015 rankings if he just improves slightly in 2014.
Even scarier is the fact he doesn't even turn 24 until September 24th, two weeks after the likely start of the 2014 NFL season. Players don't typically hit their prime until at least age 25.
If that hold to be true with Burfict, we may be another year or two before we see the best he can be.