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Thursday, December 19, 2013
Don't listen to Vontaze -- he's being modest

By Coley Harvey

CINCINNATI -- When the NFL released its latest update on Pro Bowl fan voting Wednesday, one Cincinnati Bengals player's name was notably absent.

Vontaze Burfict.

Perhaps it wasn't really much of a surprise since the undrafted second-year player hasn't had widespread name recognition during his young career. He also doesn't play in the type of big-market city that might give him the spotlight that players on other teams may receive.

So, if those are the primary reasons why the linebacker's name wasn't included among the top 2 vote-getters at his position, then maybe it all makes sense. Otherwise, there shouldn't be any other reason as to why the NFL's leading tackler wasn't among the top interior linebacker selections with a week of fan voting to go. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, he ranks 10th in voting at his position.

Vontaze Burfict
The development of linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been a big reason why the Bengals are nearing a playoff berth.
Apparently that doesn't matter to Burfict. In his eyes, a Pro Bowl invite means nothing if he can't take his teammates with him. That is, assuming the Bengals are done playing on Jan. 26.

"For me, I don't think the Pro Bowl should be in the NFL," Burfict said. "That's an individual thing and this is not an individual sport. You've got 10 more guys that are out on the field with you. If I make it to the Pro Bowl, then everybody else should make it to the Pro Bowl."

As improbable and impractical as it actually is to send one individual team's 11 defenders to the postseason all-star game, you understand what Burfict is trying to say, don't you? Clearly, he's just being modest.

That's why, when he says the Pro Bowl doesn't belong in the game, you shouldn't listen to him. His humility may prevent him from publicly admitting it, but Burfict knows full well how much of an honor a Pro Bowl invite is. If there is a player on the Bengals' roster most deserving of a trip to this season's game, it is him.

Why does he deserve the Hawaiian vacation? Consider the following.

Not only does he lead the NFL in tackles with 151, but he currently is tied for the all-time single-season franchise tackles record. The stat wasn't recorded until 1976, when Reggie Williams and Jim LeClair each posted 106-tackle regular seasons for the Bengals. Three years later, LeClair had 138. That mark stood as the single-season Cincinnati record until 1988 when Tim Krumrie had 151.

With an average of 10.8 tackles per game, Burfict is on pace to finish with 173.

Since Week 7, he has been the NFL's tackles leader, consistently holding off Dallas' Sean Lee, Buffalo's Kiko Alonso and Jacksonville's Paul Posluszny. Burfict also was the season's tackles leader after Week 4 before getting overtaken.

Alonso and Lee are the AFC's and NFC's respective fan vote leaders.

Those of you who follow defensive statistics closely know that often there are discrepancies between the tackles statistics tracked by the stat crews inside press boxes on game days, and what coaches provide their teams at the end of the week. There are always times when one group credits partial tackles that the other doesn't recognize. Debate can even arise with respect to what constitutes a tackle and what doesn't. As a result, the tackle isn't a formally recognized statistic tracked by the NFL. You won't find tackle statistics in the record book.

For the sake of this argument, though, we're using ESPN Stats & Info's statistics module, which has Burfict at 151 tackles. Whether he actually has that many or more or less, it is clear that he is around the ball all the time.

Burfict has been around the ball so often that he has also gotten his hands on three turnovers; two fumble recoveries and an interception. One of the fumble recoveries came against Cleveland last month when a Burfict hit forced the ball loose, and he grabbed it and scored on an untouched return.

A strong case could be made that if it weren't for Burfict's play in his second year, the tenor of this 9-5, potentially playoff-bound season could be different for the Bengals.

"He's grown," defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. "He understands the defense much better, so he's able to tell guys kind of what to do a little bit more. But he's just matured like normal."

Burfict's rapid maturity ought to include a Pro Bowl selection.