Are the Stars Aligning for Vontaze Burfict and the Bengals?


Can Vontaze Burfict ascend to stardom while lifting the Bengals with him? Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Vontaze Burfict’s ascension to the top of the Bengals’ defense has been remarkable.  After playing his way to a “first round grade” in college, Burfict squandered the status with off-the-field incidents.  Burfict was able to work himself into the good graces of Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and was given a shot as an UDFA signing by the Bengals.

Burfict impressed enough to make the team, but was tagged as a reserve playing behind the late Thomas Howard.  Following an injury to Howard, Burfict was inserted into the starting line-up and began to impress almost immediately.  He finished his rookie campaign with 127 tackles, six stuffs, and two pass deflections.

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Burfict retained his starting spot the following year as Howard was unable to recover from injury.  As 2013 would have it, the Bengals suffered year-ending injuries to the defense’s leaders Geno Atkins and Leon Hall.  This left a gapping hole in the defense and a vacancy within the leadership ranks.  Burfict went on to lead the league in tackles (171) while also leading the defense to a third place finish in the NFL.

There is no doubt that Burfict has been incredibly impressive through his first two years in the NFL.  But despite all this production, Burfict will have to do more if he truly wants to be considered a star in this league.  And as chance would have it once more, the opportunity lies at Burfict’s feet.

We all know Vontaze Burfict is an incredibly talented playmaker.  He’s a proven his ability to defend receivers while also displaying his instincts for rushing the passer since day one.

But his final hurdle to stardom lies not with his play-making, but rather his ability to lead and raise the level of play amongst his teammates.  His ability to be this team’s unequivocal leader.

We’ve all heard about how he is the “heart and soul” of this defense; that much is obvious.  Marvin Lewis has even compared him to Ray Lewis.  It’s Lewis’ comparison that probably gave rise to Burfict’s goal when he made as much clear with this statement.

"“He (Marvin Lewis) wants the best out of me and that’s what I need at this level,” Burfict says. “He’s the father, I’m the son. He sees the potential I have. He’s not setting any limits. Sometimes it gets under my skin, but that’s what I need in order to be better than Ray Lewis, or up to his level. I just need to be pushed.”"

In order to truly achieve this goal, Burfict will have to learn about it means to lead on an NFL field.

The Bengals’ future is intertwined with his.  Burfict must remedy the Bengals’ inability to win big games if he wants to be considered amongst the Ray Lewis types.  We’ve seen him have games where he’s accumulated 18 tackles against a divisional opponent.  But now he must be the inspiration that Lewis was.  He must instill confidence and fortitude in his teammates.  He needs to show them how to embrace the bright lights rather than fold under the pressure as they’ve done so many times.  He needs to own this team emotionally.  If Vontaze Burfict can do that, both he and his Bengals will shine bright.