- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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No one has had a more dramatic fall in the months leading up to the NFL draft than Arizona State inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict. If this is wrong, please let me know because I can't think of any.
But Burfict could have the a dramatic rise back after reaching a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, a popular destination for NFL players wanting a second chance.
Could Burfict become the Bengals' latest redemption project? Could he go from a player no one wanted to draft to a starter in the season opener? This might sound crazy. And I fully admit this is jumping the gun especially since Burfict has yet to practice with Cincinnati.
Still, there is a scenario in which this could occur. Burfict will presumably compete with Dan Skuta to back up middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, who could face disciplinary action from the NFL after his latest legal issue. If Maualuga is suspended to start the season and Burfict wins the backup job, the Bengals would have Burfict in the middle of their defense in the season opener at Baltimore.
There are a lot of "ifs" and the odds of this happening are probably slim. But you can't rule this out. It would be a great story considering his pre-draft roller coaster.
Burfict had been rated as one of the top five inside linebackers in this draft, gaining attention for his on-field intensity and explosive hits. He then went from being linked to the Ravens in the first round -- the next Ray Lewis, some mock drafts described him -- to going undrafted. He completely flopped at the NFL combine, which included the slowest 40-yard time at his position. One draft publication called him "an overly emotional locker-room lawyer and divisive energy-draining field force." You should read Alyssa Roenigk's piece in ESPN the Magazine about him.
Going to the Bengals gives him his best shot at proving himself to every team that passed on him over the past three days (253 players were drafted). The Bengals didn't use any of their 10 draft picks on a linebacker, and they were clearly interested in him. During his pro day, head coach Marvin Lewis had a long conversation with him and they've been in contact ever since, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.