It’s hype week at SB Nation, and every NFL blogs is writing about the players we are most excited to watch in 2017. The Cincinnati Bengals are in an interesting position this year with so many of their really exciting players being young and inexperienced, making concrete examples of why I am so excited by them hard to come by. You could and should be excited by John Ross, Joe Mixon, Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson. But, the one player who looks poised to absolutely dominate this year is sixth-year linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Burfict is well on his way to going down as the greatest undrafted free agent signing in Bengals history. With Kyle Cook, Sam Wyche, and M.L. Harris as his most significant competition, you could make the argument he is already at the top of the list after recording 56 starts in his first five seasons and putting up 508 total tackles, seven sacks, three forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, 25 pass deflections, five interceptions, and one defensive touchdown in his five-year career, so far.
2017 can be a big year for Burfict...because it has to be. It will be the final year of his four-year contract extension signed before the 2014 NFL season. There is no doubt the Bengals will try to extend a player who has made so much impact in such a short time with the team, but how much money he receives will likely depend on his ability to repeat his 2016 performance without the burden of injuries or suspension.
NFL fans at large do not like Burfict. On some level, it is related to his level of success in the face of so much hate. But, the main reason for that hate is his perception as a ‘dirty player’. Granted, there have been times when his reckless behavior on the field has gotten him into trouble, but any coach or player on the Bengals’ roster will tell you Burfict would never intentionally injure other players and he just plays the game instinctively and with intense passion.
Before Burfict returned from suspension last year, the Bengals’ defense looked stagnant. Prior to his return, the Bengals allowed 19 or more points in every game. But, the week he returned, the defense only allowed seven points to the Miami Dolphins and proceeded to allow 19 or more points in only half of the remaining games.
Burfict has only managed to start all 16 games in a season once his career, in 2013. He did not disappoint that year as he put up 177 total tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown), eight pass deflections, and one interception for a 12-yard return. It was enough to earn the first and only Pro Bowl appearance of his career. If he can stay healthy and out of trouble in 2017, there’s no reason to think he can’t dominate the league and earn his second Pro Bowl berth.
Burfict is the player I’m most excited about in 2017 and there’s reason to think he will (positively) take the NFL by storm this season.
Which Bengals player are you most excited to watch in 2017?
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