Road to the Pros: LSU Football in the NFL Draft Part 1, Quarterback Joe Burrow
If you’re trying to find weaknesses in Joe Burrow’s game, good luck. His 2019 film was nearly flawless, landing him a Heisman Trophy, a national title, and the greatest single-season by a quarterback all, candidly, in runaway fashion.
Burrow’s historic season will also soon land him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, setting up a possible homecoming back to Ohio to be the next face of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Checking in at 6-foot-3, 221 pounds, Burrow fits the build of an NFL franchise QB. Along with ideal size, his football IQ is off-the-charts. When he first visited LSU in May 2018, Ed Orgeron said Burrow was the smartest person in a room full of tenured coaches. He has everything you want.
Elite pocket presence allowed Burrow to extend plays with his feet. In 2019, pressure became his best friend, and he delivered when it was highest. He was the most pressured QB in the SEC, and his passer rating when pressured totaled 141.1, which ranked No. 1 in college football by an overwhelmingly wide margin. Utah QB Tyler Huntley ranks No. 2 on that list, after a significant drop off, with a rating of 113.5.
In terms of numbers, metrics and analytics, it’s Joe Burrow and everyone else.
Against Georgia in the SEC Championship, a zero blitz from the Dawgs forced Burrow to get creative with his feet, and seconds later, his Heisman campaign was solidified. He’s a magician. Plain and simple.
At LSU, Burrow’s accuracy from Year 1 to Year 2 improved drastically. In 2018, Burrow posted a fair 57.8 completion percentage, throwing for 16 touchdowns. But in 2019, he became the second-most accurate passer in college football history, with a 76.3 completion percentage and an all-time FBS-leading 60 touchdowns on 5,671 yards passing. The jump was unprecedented, but it wasn’t a fluke. Records don’t break themselves.
In fact, on passes 10+ yards downfield, Burrow finished with a pass percentage of 40.0. To put it in perspective, the FBS average was 18.8. Even though he competed in the toughest conference in America, Burrow remained in a league of his own.
“Burrow’s 2019 is the highest graded season we’ve seen at quarterback since 2014,” said Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus. “He made big-time throws, limited mistakes and graded at 78.5 as a runner, where he was an opportunistic scrambler. Burrow graded that high in the conference with the most defensive talent in the nation, while showing no signs of slowing down in the season’s biggest games.”
Burrow’s ability to drop passes into insanely tight windows, scramble when needed and make explosive plays on the move makes him a quarterback whose game directly translates to the professional level. If you’re one to nitpick, the criticism has been his ‘arm strength,’ but Burrow proved to be a lethal threat down field to Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson all season long.
He’ll just have to keep proving people wrong, something he’s become more than accustomed to.
Most Intriguing Destination: This will be the easiest one of the series. Burrow, the Athens, Ohio native ventured down to Baton Rouge to resurrect his football career, and the opportunity to return home to the Buckeye State would bring everything full circle. With the Bengals at rock bottom as a franchise, expectations are appropriately low, and Burrow’s arrival can provide the fanbase with hope and a positive spark they haven't experienced in quite some time.
Aside from his play on the field, Burrow has all the intangibles off it that an NFL GM dreams of. He’s not cocky, he’s confident. And similar to his role model Drew Brees, behind-the-scenes, he’s as hard a worker as any when nobody’s watching. Now transitioning to the next level, his career sets up to be a lengthy one, and his story has the chance to live long after he’s gone.
“Numbers can only tell so much of the story, though. Evaluating quarterbacks is equal parts science and instinct,” said Bleacher Report NFL Draft scout Matt Miller. When Miller spoke to a longtime quarterbacks coach, he felt Burrow just had the it factor that NFL signal-callers need.
"Burrow just has it. You can't coach it; you can't develop it. Some guys just have it,” the anonymous coach told Miller. “Baker [Mayfield] has it. Gardner Minshew has it. The difference is that Burrow has better size than both and a much better arm than Minshew."
Writer’s Note: With the NFL Draft just under six weeks from now, concerns surrounding COVID-19 will likely force the league to make some tough decisions in the coming weeks. For Burrow and the other LSU draft prospects, the early rounds in Las Vegas were primed to be dominated by Tigers. Stay tuned for updates as the situation develops.