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AFC North beat writers convinced Vontaze Burfict is dirty, but is he really?

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At first glance, Burfict's history might suggest that he plays with no regard for his fellow athletes. But, is that assessment accurate?

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Vontaze Burfict is easily one of the most controversial players in the NFL. This isn't exactly news to anyone who has followed his football career, but it's a fact that is becoming more and more prevalent the longer he plays.

Going all the way back to his college days, Burfict was known as a player who had first round talent heading into the NFL Draft, but could fall fairly far due to disciplinary issues and some noticeable friction between he and his coaches. Those fears were confirmed when Burfict fell out of the draft entirely and had to settle for signing as a college free agent with the Bengals.

Throughout his career in the NFL, his story hasn't been much different. While he hasn't had any rifts with the Bengals' coaching staff, disciplinary issues continue to hinder his performance. In fact, despite holding down a starting position with the team for essentially his whole career, he's become known for his reckless playing style more than his outstanding playing ability.

Since entering the league, he has committed 30 penalties (26 accepted). Among those are 12 instances of unnecessary roughness, two personal fouls, and one roughing the passer. That's half of his total penalty count which has either been caused by recklessness or down right dirty play:

Dirty or Reckless?

The severity of the answer depends on who you ask, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of difference of opinion on Burfict's play from those outside of the Bengals' organization and fan base. Most fans and analysts from every part of the spectrum seem to agree that he has some major issues that need to be corrected. In fact, a panel of ESPN's AFC North writers recently got together to discuss whether Burfict is a dirty player and all three said he is, although not with the same reasoning.

Jamison Hensley, Baltimore Ravens reporter: Dirty, and you can underscore that. Some might think Burfict has become public enemy No. 1 in the Ravens' locker room since Hines Ward is retired. In last year's finale, guard John Urschel called out Burfict by tweeting out a video of the linebacker blindsiding Maxx Williams with a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked the Baltimore tight end off his feet. The ball wasn't even coming in Williams' direction. That wasn't the Ravens' first run-in with Burfict. In 2014, wide receiver Torrey Smith was hit late by Burfict after he was already shaken up from a collision with Adam Jones. "He's a heck of a player," Smith said. "He's a dirty one, too." In the 2012 draft, the Ravens were one of the teams linked to Burfict but decided not to select him. "There were other players who we felt had better qualities to be Baltimore Ravens," assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said at the time.

It's an understandable position to take from the perspective of a rival team that has seen Burfict's recklessness on more than one notable occasion. Anotherer being this late hit on Joe Flacco.

Vontaze Burfict late hit on Joe Flacco

However, if there's one team that knows the wrath of Burfict, it's the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tackles by Burfict have injured three particular Steelers players.

Jeremy Fowler, Pittsburgh Steelers reporter: The disdain opposing players have for Burfict reaffirms the belief that he's dirty, and I try not to throw around that word casually. But players know when a guy has good intentions. They believe Burfict crossed that plane a long time ago. And not just Steelers players. Many across the league have taken notice. The rep will be difficult to shake. On some levels, I understand his approach. He was undrafted out of Arizona State. Playing with an edge maximizes his play and sustains his livelihood. This is on Marvin Lewis, too, because something isn't connecting with Burfict, who's a heck of a player save for the antics. Maybe the three-game suspension will resonate. Lewis must do something to breed composure. And let's just say the Steelers will be disappointed when they play Cincinnati in Week 2 without Burfict, who played a role in injuring Pittsburgh's three best offensive players.

One point that I do agree on in this particular quote is the fact that part of Burfict's problem seems to be a lack of composure. He seems to get carried away with the game, taking dangerous angles and making hits that look 'dirty'. It's obvious to see this happening in instances like when one of his hits injured Antonio Brown in this year's Wild Card playoff game.

Vontaze Burfict hit on Antonio Brown

Burfict went for the hit on Brown to knock the ball out and prevent the Steelers from advancing into field goal range, but he utilized poor technique by taking a bad angle and hitting Brown in the helmet with the brunt of his shoulder pad. It doesn't look like he was trying to be malicious, but it is absolutely true that this kind of reckless behavior is the kind of thing that not only gets you in trouble but can seriously threaten the health of another player. It's something that Burficr absolutely must reign in.

In a way, it's kind of like Burfict's infamous hit on Le'Veon Bell that ended Bell's 2015 campaign. He went to tackle him out of bounds and, unfortunately, the angle and location of the hit caused Bell's MCL to severely tear. However, despite the fact that Bell accused Burfict of intentionally trying to injure him, Burfict did express concern and support for the Steelers' running back during his recovery. And, the hit was a legal one.

Burfict seems to care about his opponents, and his words lead me to believe that 'dirty' is just not the right way to describe his demeanor. I tend to agree more with Pat McManamon's thoughts on the matter.

Pat McManamon, Cleveland Browns reporter: Can the answer be both? There is no personal animus between the Cleveland Browns and Burfict, but his past seems to be prelude. He has been fined time and again, and his hit on Brown in the playoff loss was late and dangerous. The Browns respect Burfict's talent. But they also know that until he channels that talent completely the right way, he will continue to have issues.

The fact of the matter is Burfict is a pro football player with elite level of talent. He doesn't have the same attitude of someone who is truly 'dirty' like former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward or current Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter. Both men have acted 'dirty' enough to have entire rules based around their individual behavior. In addition, both men have expressed the fact that they don't regret their actions and will only change their behavior to the extent that the NFL requires.

Burfict's behavior in some cases can be considered unacceptable and even deceptively dirty. But, at least he is aware of his issues and says he's making the effort to change his ways. In this way, he might be erratic, reckless, and emotional, but calling him dirty just doesn't make sense.