The biggest surprise within the Cincinnati Bengals’ organization this year was the play of undrafted rookie Vontaze Burfict, as he replaced an injured Thomas Howard early on in the season.
He ended the season with 127 tackles and was the Bengals' best linebacker during the year.
Rey Maualuga is about to become an unrestricted free agent, and the likelihood of Cincinnati re-signing him seems small.
And rightfully so, in my opinion.
Maualuga has always been known as a hard hitter, and he definitely racks up a solid number of tackles. However, those two skills are attributes of literally every linebacker in the NFL. The difference is that he is absolutely terrible in pass coverage, ranked near the bottom of all starters at the MLB position.
He also has a very hard time protecting against the run with his poor angles of pursuit.
Back to Burfict, who many Bengals fans would find relief seeing take over that spot of the defense. He has the speed to cover the pass attack over the middle, is quick to the football and can wrap up defenders for the sure tackle.
He has a slight issue against the run in the trenches, but that’s something that can be worked on.
While he played outside linebacker this season in place of Thomas Howard, Burfict has had experience in the middle linebacker position at the college level. It’s a good bet that the adjustment wouldn’t be too difficult for next year.
With Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson both free agents, Burfict could end up staying in the outside linebacker position next season. It may depend on where the Bengals take their early picks in the draft.
"That's what I need in order to be better than Ray Lewis, or up to his level. I just need to be pushed."
He certainly has the right attitude.