Brodrick Bunkley is the one veteran on the defensive line that gets no love from either the fans or the media, when it comes to getting his name in the headlines or earning praise and adulation for his on-field performance. Even though he hasn’t been the “brute force” that the Saints were hoping for when they signed him in 2012, he actually began playing his best football during the second half of last season. Now it appears that he’s started 2014 where he left off last year, and looks to be refreshed and refocused — and ready to make folks remember “The Forgotten Man”.
The other night on the Who Dat Confessional Radio Show (that I co-host with Saints and NFL analyst Walter “Deuce” Windham), I was gushing over the fact of how loaded the Saints’ stout young defensive line is with talent, and admittedly I probably didn’t include Bunkley because he’s the oldest (he turns 31 in November) of that group. The other reason is because quite frankly I’ve been one of the members of the media who’s been critical of Bunkley’s overall performance since he signed a 5 year, $25 million deal with the Saints during free-agency prior to the start of the 2012 season. (in fact, I had labeled him as a “free-agent bust” right around this same time last year at the previous site that I wrote for). But after further review, I’ve decided that I’ve been wrong, perhaps even dead wrong, about Bunkley.
Certainly alot of critics, including myself , have had a pre-conceived notion about Bunkley for some time now. The frustrating thing for me personally is that no one has ever questioned Bunkley’s talent or ability to be a special player in the NFL. This is a guy after all who was a high school All-American at George Chamberlain High School in his native Tampa, Florida — and recorded an incredible 18 and a half sacks in his senior season for the Chiefs in 2003. Bunkley was considered a four-star recruit by Rivals.com; and a consensus All-American by Parade Magazine. Bunkley was ranked as the No. 22 defensive tackle nation-wide, in a class that was highlighted by Haloti Ngata, Rodrique Wright, and Gabe Watson. After official visits to Michigan State, Florida State, Florida, and Miami. Bunkley chose to stay as close to home as possible and signed with the Seminoles.
Bunkley arrived on the Talahassee campus in the fall of 2003; and as a true freshman season appeared in eight games and totaled 13 tackles, one tackle for loss and three quarterback hurries. In the next-to-last game of the regular season against Florida, Bunkley injured his left knee on an apparent “chop block” by Gators All-American guard Mo Mitchell, which caused him to miss the remainder of the season including the 2003 Sugar Bowl.
As a sophomore in the 2004 season, Bunkley played in all 13 games, serving as a back-up nose guard. When starter Jeff Womble missed both the Virginia and Wake Forest games due to injury, Bunkley stepped in as starter. For the season, Bunkley ranked third among defensive lineman with 38 tackles (19 solo, 19 assisted), including eight for a loss, and also had five QB hurries, two pass break-ups, one and a half sacks and a fumble recovery — and Seminoles coaches named him Co-Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
After Womble’s graduation, Bunkley took over as starting nose guard in 2004. However, he missed the second half of the season with a severe right high ankle sprain. Having only played in seven games, he finished the year with 12 tackles (three for loss), one sack and one quarterback hurry. He underwent surgery on his ankle after the season and was then ruled academically ineligible in the spring of 2005. He attended summer school, missing a portion of fall camp while he was awaiting his grades.Eventually his eligibility was re-instated, and Bunkley started all 13 games at nose guard for the Seminoles.
He ranked second nationally in tackles for loss by any defender with 25 (behind only Dan Bazuin of Cental Michigan; who had 26.5), thereby establishing a new single-season school record, surpassing former Seminole (and current Arizona Cardinals All-Pro) Darnell Dockett′s 23.5 from a few seasons earlier during the 2001 season. Bunkley lead the Seminoles with nine sacks, was second on the team in quarterback hurries with 15, and tied for third with 39 solo tackles. He was named a Football Writers Association of America first team All-American and a CNNSI.com first team All-American.
Many NFL scouts had rated as a bona-fide playmaker in the middle, when he was one of the top NT’s to come out in the 2006 NFL Draft (the same year the Saints took Reggie Bush with the 2nd overall pick). As a matter of fact, I even can recall NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock say that he was a ‘physical specimen’ coming out of FSU. Projected a first-round pick, Bunkley was praised for his “tremendous first-step quickness” and “nasty attitude”. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Bunkley had an impressive 44 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press and had scouts drooling over themselves with his potential to become an NFL star. The Eagles and then-coach Andy Reid took Bunkley with the 14th overall selection, and as a rookie Bunkley became a starting defensive tackle for the Eagles alongside Mike Patterson.
Yet , Bunkley only managed a TOTAL of just three sacks in his final three of four seasons in Philadelphia. Eagles management grew disillusioned with Bunkley, who after being that physical specimen in college with the Seminoles that I spoke of earlier, allowed himself to put on weight and seemed almost as if he were totally disengaged about being a player in the NFL. Bunkley had six sacks in 76 games in his complete time in Philadelphia, and in the eyes of many observers (including many among Eagles supporters) was considered a “bust”.
He became expendable when the Eagles signed former Packers defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins. Prior to the start of the 2011 season, the Eagles traded Bunkley on July 30th to the Cleveland Browns but he REFUSED to report (and who can blame him?), causing the deal to fall through. Just two days later on August 1st, the Eagles traded him again but this time for an undisclosed 2013 draft choice to play for the Denver Broncos. This time Bunkley accepted the trade, although it’s fair to say that he was still a bit stunned by the events that had taken place.
Apparently the change of scenery served him well, and Bunkley had perhaps the best season of his six-year career in 2011; with 43 tackles for the Broncos. He added another six tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in the playoffs. The trade had seemed to fire Bunkley up and he in turn had the best season of his professional career at age 27. He parlayed that one good year into making himself become considered by many analysts as the best run-stuffing tackle available in all of the 2012 free-agency signing period — a time when the Saints were just being dealt the blow of the (alleged) “Bountygate” infractions.
The Saints then pursued Bunkley right from the “get-go”, and signed him to a five-year contract worth $25 million, with $9 million of it guaranteed. In a prepared statement initially after his signing, Saints GM Mickey Loomis said of Bunkley: “We are pleased to add Brodrick to our defensive line. He’s an energetic player that can contribute in stopping the run as well as rushing the passer and we believe he’ll fit in well and be a valuable member of our team.” Unfortunately for both Bunkley himself and the team as a whole, that coming 2012 season ended up being one that likely all of them wanted to forget, as Bunkley was part of a unit that ranked dead-last in the League — and statistically was ranked as the WORST of all-time in the NFL’s entire history.
Bunkley appeared in 15 games and totaled 23 tackles with 2 and a half sacks long with 2 passes deflected. That may be considered adequate by some NFL standards, but it was disappointing when you consider the expectations that every one had for Bunkley coming into that season. The nightmare for Bunkley and the team compounded itself on November 25, 2012 — when Bunkley was ejected from a game against the San Francisco 49ers in the Superdome when he kicked the 49ers’ OL Alex Boone in the head. However, I will say in his defense that it was only after Boone attempted to punch him in the groin. Bunkley ended up being fined $20,000 for his illegal kick, and his season of misery (and for the entire Saints organization) essentially ended at that point.
Of course, last year Bunkley seemed to be following up his disappointing 2012 season with an even poorer performance for 2013; and he was injured for part of the year and lost his starting spot to the rookie 3rd round pick out of Georgia, John Jenkins. Bunkley ended up appearing in a total of 12 games, and tallied a grand total of 13 tackles, drawing the ire of many Saints fans and criticism from those in the media who felt he wasn’t earning the money given to him in 2012, despite the fact that he restructured his original deal in 2012 by allowing the Saints to cut his base salary to $750,000 and turned the other $3 million into a signing bonus that would be spread through the next four seasons. He was solid however in the Playoffs when he returned, though he and Jenkins shared time as part of the rotation at the NT position.
Bunkley took a pay cut earlier this offseason as the Saints were cash-strapped thanks to their annual habit of pressing against the salary cap ceiling. The Saints still couldn’t afford to lose Bunkley, though, and he’s showing why early on this preseason. Bunkley followed up his sack from the other night in the preseason game against the Rams with another great run stuff in practice Monday at Greenbrier.
He’s obviously come to this training camp healthy, fit and ready to play — and perhaps now maybe (just maybe) the 6-foot-2, 306-pound nose tackle is once again becoming quite the “brute force” that they originally hoped he’d be, throughout much of this training camp thus far in 2014. Bunkley has been the number one starter at nose tackle with the first unit all throughout the time spent in West Virginia up to this point; with promising young second-year lineman John Jenkins (whom I gushed over on the radio the other night) having just returned to practice this week.
Now I’ll leave you with this thought about Bunkley, which is that I’m a bit skeptical given his recent history. This guy quite simply was a “beast” of a player in college, yet has been a MAJOR disappointment as a pro. If he indeed has truly dedicated himself in this past off-season to refocusing and reenergizing his passion for the sport that he used to play with, then the Saints may be the beneficiary of something special this coming season. At age 31, it’s way too early to say that Bunkley is in one of the final stages in his career; and it’s a safe assumption to think that he may sill have a bit of gas left in the proverbial tank.
However, it will take MORE than just a sack given up by a back-up offensive lineman in a pre-season game to convince me that Bunkley has regained the form that he displayed in Denver in 2011, much less at Florida State. Regardless of what he does, I won’t count him out as I have previously because his willingness to remain with the team at a reduced rate would seem to suggest to me that perhaps Bunkley realizes that 2014 is his LAST CHANCE to make his mark in the NFL. At age 30 and about to turn 31 before Thanksgiving, Bunkley knows that it’s now or never to make it happen. I hope he does, so that every one will start remembering “The Forgotten Man”…………..