You’re forgiven if Vontaze Burfict has faded from your conscious mind. With about 435 hours left until the 2012 NFL draft officially begins, the speculation about the quality of this draft and where each player should fall has grown from a dull roar to a raging clue. We’ve now reached the point where we’re wondering if there are five quarterbacks in this draft who are better than Cam Newton. Seriously.

So there’s only enough free mental space to absorb the latest rumors on first round players that are loosely based on anything, anything at all. Long, long ago, Burfict was considered one of the draft’s best linebackers. Then he made a mockery of the Combine, blaming his Arizona State coaches for messing him up, and failing in his attempt to explain why he chose to punch a teammate in practice.

Random acts of violence generally don’t have good explanations, and Burfict’s poor pre-Combine interviews quickly contributed to his tumble to the lower stratospheres of draft boards. If his off-field character concerns weren’t enough to hand him a few pretty red flags, Burfict then failed spectacularly during the underwear Olympics, becoming the only linebacker who needed more than five seconds to run 40 yards.

The Cleveland Browns saw all of this, and had one thought: he’s our guy. And at the right price, they’re not crazy.

Will Burge of ESPN Cleveland cites multiple sources who tell him that Tom Heckert has strong interest in Burfict, and the Browns GM could continue his trend of late-draft gem hunting among the tainted prospects who are flying a colorful mix of flags.

From Burge:

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.

Of course, the right price has to be obscenely low, and likely in the final round. Burfict’s free fall has been so drastic that there’s a strong possibility he may go undrafted, but there’s a reason why he was given such a high grade early in the draft process. Over three years in Arizona he had 134 tackles and seven sacks, numbers that won’t turn heads, but they still show that there’s raw, natural ability somewhere in that football body and mind when he’s focused.

The Browns are set at middle linebacker after re-signing D’Qwell Jackson to a five-year, $42.5 million contract. But they’ve accumulated 13 picks in this year’s draft through trades, most notably the Julio Jones swap with Atlanta last year. With that kind of draft weekend firepower, the risk is further reduced on a project player like Burfict who already has an appealing upside and minimal risk as a late pick.

The Browns could do something that’s completely logical. I know, I felt a drop of the sky fall too.

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