Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict can relate to every negative emotion that will be felt by hopeful college prospects not chosen in this week’s NFL Draft.
He also is a prime example of why those players shouldn’t necessarily give up on their gridiron dreams.
Burfict’s own draft-day experience was so hurtful that he says those memories “are pretty much in the trash.”
It’s better that way considering Burfict’s football future at this point last year looked like garbage.
You name it, Burfict had screwed it up. He was projected as one of college football’s top linebackers entering the 2011 season.
Then came a series of unsettling incidents both on and off the field at Arizona State followed by mediocre pre-draft workouts and a failed drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The 2012 draft concluded without Burfict being one of the 253 players selected.
Only three teams even expressed interest in signing him as a college free agent. Burfict took Cincinnati’s minimum-salary contract offer that included a paltry $1,000 signing bonus, which was a far cry from the millions in signing bonus money he should have earned for his first-round talent.
Burfict’s admission that he was a “little disappointed” about not being picked sounds like a massive understatement. But rather than get overwhelmed by bitterness and continuing his downward spiral, Burfict took advantage of the opportunity to become the NFL’s best undrafted rookie in 2012.
“All I needed was a chance,” Burfict told FOXSports.com in a Tuesday telephone interview. “I never want to second-guess myself. I always have to think positive.
“Every practice I try to simulate as a game. I go in there and do my job. Everything went smoothly.”
Burfict said he signed with the Bengals — a franchise known for taking chances on players with checkered pasts — after being courted by head coach Marvin Lewis and linebackers coach Paul Guenther. Burfict was especially impressed by the fact Lewis was Baltimore’s defensive coordinator when future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis first entered the NFL.
Cincinnati’s veteran defensive players quickly embraced Burfict, which was something he admittedly didn’t expect.
“I communicated to them what my journey had been like,” Burfict said. “They all related to that and understood some things just didn’t go my way. They took me under their wings and coach Guenther spent extra time with me watching film to let me understand the whole defense before the other rookies understood it.”
Burfict continued studying film post-practice to better dissect NFL offenses. His diet improved. Before too long, Burfict began looking like the linebacker who had won the 2010 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Burfict entered the starting lineup at weak-side linebacker in Week 3 and finished the season with a team-high 127 tackles. That effort helped Burfict earn a league-high $299,465 under the NFL’s performance-based pay program designed to compensate lesser-salaried players based upon playing time.
“I’m proud but never satisfied,” said Burfict, 22. “I’m looking to improve the things I didn’t do good last year. I was pretty good at run-stopping. This year, I’ll be good in coverage and do a better job rotating my hips and pretty much be a better football player overall.
“Last year I’m happy about, but nobody remembers last year. I’m focused on this year now.”
Burfict, though, was willing to offer advice to those incoming rookies who won’t have their names called from the podium at Radio City Music Hall.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re the first pick, the last pick or undrafted,” Burfict said. “You’re still a rookie at the end of the day. You’re still able to go in with your chin up ready to go if your number is called. Just do all the little things right and you’ll be alright.”