Sun Devils fans have had a love/hate relationship with Vontaze Burfict ever since he arrived in Tempe back in 2009.
Athletically speaking, Burfict is an incredible specimen, and his abilities have earned rave reviews from preseason publications across the nation. As of today, Burfict has been named to Playboy's Preseason All-America Team, anointed as Blue Ribbon Magazine's National Defensive Player of the Year, and is viewed as the top junior middle linebacker prospect by SB Nation's Mocking The Draft.
The issues we face with Burfict are never rooted in a lack of effort. Rather, Burfict is viewed as a cheap shot artist by opposing fans (and referees). It's hard to argue with that prognosis when you watch YouTube videos or look at photos that catch him in the act.
Regardless, Burfict is the key to ASU's resurgence in 2011. Should he be able to keep his nose clean and cut down on mindless penalties, his value to the team will rise meteorically.
There are few linebackers in the nation that instill fear the same way Burfict does. He reputation precedes him, and at this point Burfict needs to focus on making smart plays while letting his reputation scare the opposition.
Vontaze has the talent to become a first round NFL draft pick in 2012; can he put it together on the field for ASU in 2011? This is one of the rare cases where a player needs to take less risks in order to help the team, and with so much riding on this upcoming season for the Sun Devils, the time for Burfict to fully mature has arrived.