Burfict says he’s leaving Arizona State for NFL

Arizona State lost a player to the NFL on Monday. It also lost one giant headache.

In a widely anticipated move, middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict announced on his Facebook page that he will declare for the NFL Draft. The deadline for that decision is Jan. 15.

Burfict’s loss means the Sun Devils will enter the 2012 season without four linebackers who played significant minutes last season. Colin Parker, Shelly Lyons and Oliver Aaron will graduate. Those four were among ASU’s six leading tacklers last season.

A preseason All-American, Burfict had a disappointing junior season (69 tackles, five sacks) that former coach Dennis Erickson called “just average.” Defensive coordinator Craig Bray was critical of Burfict’s study habits and discipline — a common refrain for a player who was known as well for his personal fouls as he was for his obvious physical tools.

Burfict was pulled from the second half of the Sun Devils’ season finale against California after a pair of personal fouls. He did not return and played only in base packages against Boise State in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl.

Despite his sub-par season, several draft analysts have Burfict ranked among the top 20 prospects in their preliminary “mock drafts.”

Depending on what sort of defense new coach Todd Graham runs, Burfict’s loss could pave the way for redshirt senior Brandon Magee to move from outside linebacker to middle. Magee was one of Burfict’s closest friends on the team and is a vocal leader.

Magee ruptured his Achilles tendon in training camp and missed the entire 2011 season. His presence was sorely missed, both for his skills and his ability to rein in the combustible Burfict. During camp, Bray called Magee his best player in 2010.