Countdown to The Draft
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By: Will Burge
Over the past few seasons Browns’ General Manager Tom Heckert has shown that he is not afraid to take risks on players who have a questionable history. He may be looking to do it again this year. Multiple sources tell ESPN Cleveland that the Browns have an interest in drafting troubled Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
One source said, “It would be a late round value pick,” if the Browns were to select the linebacker who has as many red flags as he does talent.
Entering his junior season, Burfict was widely regarded as one of the best linebackers in the country and a possible top 5 draft pick. Unfortunately, a locker room fight in the preseason, a mediocre year on the field, and poor interviews and performance at the combine have caused his stock to plummet to the point where experts think he may not even be drafted.
During pre-combine interviews, Burfict blamed coaches for his poor junior season and tried to justify punching teammate Kevin Ozier in the face after a practice. He then hit the field and was equally as underwhelming. He posted the second worst vertical leap among linebackers and the worst broad jump. He did not participate in the bench press or shuttle runs.
Despite the poor combine performance and questionable interview skills, Burfict is still an intriguing talent and sources say that is something Heckert recognizes.
Burfict plays middle linebacker, the same position as D’Qwell Jackson who just received a 5 year $42.5 Million contract extension. Perhaps Heckert feels that Jackson could teach Burfict how to become a professional and eventually develop him into the heir apparent at middle linebacker.
In the past, Heckert has not shied away from drafting players with a spotted history. In 2011, he drafted Greg Little and Jabaal Sheard who both had off the field concerns, but they both performed well with no distractions during their rookie seasons. Sheard led the team in sacks and forced fumbles while Little led the team in catches and receiving yards.
If the Browns do select the 6’2” 260 pound linebacker in the 2012 draft, it will be in the late rounds and he will be a project. It is exactly the type of low risk, high reward choice a team can afford to make in the final rounds of a draft where they hold 13 picks.
Will Burge covers the Browns for ESPNCleveland.com and hosts 3 Deep, Monday - Friday from 7pm-9pm.
Follow Will on Twitter @WillBurge
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