The 2012 NFL Draft is still three months away, but now is when ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. comes to the forefront. On Wednesday, he released his first mock draft projections (Insider access required to read whole article) and Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict is expected to be a first round pick. In this version, he is expected to land at the end of the first round with the Baltimore Ravens.
He's been drawing comparisons to Ray Lewis since he got to Tempe, and hopefully Lewis will be around for another year to mentor Burfict. But either way, the Ravens have to consider what they'll do, as retirement talk now is a reality for their legendary linebacker, and Burfict is the kind of player who could develop into a star in his own right in that defense. He is instinctive and rangy, and plays with an edge. He developed a bit of a reputation as a guy who was prone to the personal foul, but if he channels that energy, Burfict could be a very good one. He has a ton of experience as an immediate freshman starter and reads the game pretty well.
One thing about Burfict is how polarizing he is to many fans and draft experts. Kiper seems to be a big fan. If he does end up as a teammate with Ray Lewis, a sure Hall of Fame player, and perhaps the best linebacker ever to play. If there were ever the perfect situation for Burfict to be able to channel his intensity and mature as a player, Baltimore would be it.
With the NFL Combine coming up in a month, watch for Burfict's performance and how he moves around on the draft board. We likely have not seen the last of his movement on people's draft board.
For the latest AZ sports, follow us on Twitter @SBNArizona and "Like" us on Facebook.