Six From Saturday: How Joe Burrow Went From Ohio State Backup to Heisman Trophy Winner

The LSU quarterback earned college football’s most prestigious individual trophy—and now he enters the 2020 NFL draft as arguably the top passer.
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Joe Burrow

Some interesting nuggets on how Joe Burrow, this year’s Heisman Trophy winner, got to this point …

1. Ohio State’s offer for the four-star prospect was by far the most impressive. He was bumped from three stars to four after OSU offered him—at the time, Boston College, Iowa State and West Virginia were there with the Buckeyes among his top considerations. Nebraska was his dream school; Burrow’s dad Jimmy played and coached at Nebraska, and his two older brothers played there too. But the Huskers never offered him.

2. Burrow’s recruitment wasn’t without drama. After Ohio State won the 2014 national title, OC Tom Herman left for the Univ. of Houston. OSU hired Nebraska OC Tim Beck to coach quarterbacks—the same Beck who was a big part of evaluating Burrow for the Huskers, as they decided not to offer him. Burrow wasn’t happy and almost decommitted. Urban Meyer, I’m told, personally managed that issue, finding a way to keep Burrow in his 2015 recruiting class.

3. Burrow’s quarterback battle with Dwayne Haskins in 2017? Most who there say the biggest difference in the two was health. Burrow broke his hand in fall camp in August 2017, tried to come back too early, and wound up missing most of that season. Haskins came in and save the day against rival Michigan that November, and that game experience led to Haskins carry a lead coming out of the spring in ’18, which prompted Burrow to transfer. Otherwise, as I’ve heard it, the two were neck-and-neck. And Haskins was picked No. 15 by Washington in the ’19 draft.

4. Burrow was good his first year at LSU and, obviously, great in his second year. The biggest difference in the two? Offensive coordinator Joe Brady. And Brady’s hire is actually a result of the close relationship that Sean Payton’s Saints have cultivated with LSU’s football program. In fact, before Brady’s hire, LSU had asked the Saints to have one of their offensive coaches come speak at a camp in 2018. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael couldn’t do it. Neither could quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi. So New Orleans sent Brady, and Brady blew the Tigers away. Ed Orgeron filed that away, and wound up hiring Brady in January, even though Brady was just 29 at the time. Suffice it to say, that worked out.

5. A lot of scouts will tell you that the first thing they’ll pop in to evaluate non-Alabama SEC prospects is the Alabama tape. With that in mind, here’s what Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban had to say about Burrow:

“He understands exactly what they’re doing. Because people are spread out, it makes it a little bit easier to see, the defense has to declare itself so he knows exactly what you’re in, where to go with the ball. He gets rid of it quickly. But where he’s been most effective to me is when plays break down, he’s been able to extend plays and make plays down the field as well as convert critical third-down situations by running, because he’s such a good athlete. So you’ve got to defend all of the above, which is a pretty difficult task.”

That, by the way, was before he went 31-of-39 for 393 yards and three touchdowns at Alabama.

6. That’s how we got to Burrow hoisting the Heisman on Saturday night and going into draft season as the overwhelming favorite to be the first quarterback off the board. But this is also a credit to the kid, who always had the right mindset to be a franchise guy in the NFL. In fact, I can remember one text exchange I had with a scout who had yet to be sold on his physical traits in midseason:

“I’d say his physical traits are average, he’s got an above average arm, but he is very tough, the whole program loves him, and he’s accurate to all part of the field,” the scout wrote. Another responded when I asked, “Gamer. Tough. Competitive. Underrated passer.”

Digesting that, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise how much better he’s gotten with each opportunity that’s come his way. Nor should it be much of a surprise in February and March when, for those very reasons, you start hearing how much NFL teams love him.

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