Picking Burrow: An inside look at how the Bengals vetted the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft

James Rapien

There wasn't much suspense surrounding the No. 1 pick in 2020 NFL Draft. The Bengals selection of Joe Burrow seemed inevitable. 

The organization made its' decision, but not because Burrow was the consensus top pick. They did their homework on him and vetted him thoroughly.

The process started months ago when Bengals Director of Player Personal Duke Tobin and Scouting Direction Mike Potts both made a combined three visits to LSU. 

“The thing that stuck out was the way everyone in the building talked about him,” Tobin told MMQB's Albert Breer. “Sometimes, you can tell how people feel, not by words, by how they’re saying it. And when everyone in the building talks a certain way about a kid, it perks you up. Being on campus, talking to everyone—trainers, strength coaches, position coaches, academic folks—you’d keep hearing the same message, in the same inflection, and that really registers with me.”

Burrow only spent 18 minutes in-person with Bengals' brass before they picked him. Their meeting at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis was supposed to be the first of many, instead, it was the only time they were in the same room together. 

“There can be a lot of pressure in that situation—’O.K., we’ve been reading about this for weeks, now here’s the moment,’” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor told Breer. “But he was just very confident in himself, not cocky in any way, shape or form. You're sitting in there with the head coach, the general manager, the owner and it didn't faze him. He was very confident and comfortable, and it was an easy conversation. That was really your first physical impression of the guy.”

That confidence shined through during Burrow's first news conference with the Cincinnati media. He answered every question like a 10-year veteran. 

The Bengals spent hours and hours of watching Burrow's film. He impressed them so much that offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said he was the "most accurate" quarterback prospect he's ever evaluate.

The Bengals met with Burrow virtually three times per week for one hour after Ohio was shut down due to COVID-19. He talked with Taylor and other members of the coaching staff. They reviewed his LSU film, then moved forward by looking at Bengals tape. 

Breer notes that the Bengals made up their mind at the end of March after all of the dust settled from the most active free agency period in team history. 

Taylor and Tobin met with owner Mike Brown, his daughter and EVP Katie Blackburn and son-in-law and VP Troy Blackburn.

“Everybody got to speak,” Tobin told Breer. “Everybody was on the same page. It was universal agreement in that meeting. No doubters. No detractors. It was basically, This is the guy that this whole group sees as No. 1. We think it’s clear. Here are the reasons.”

The Bengals never told Burrow their decision and made sure they didn't have a slip-up when the media asked about the top pick. 

(Mike) Brown tipped his hand, as he sent Burrow a letter welcoming him to the organization on Wednesday

“It was typed out. And it meant a lot," Burrow said. "He also wrote one to my mom and dad as well. That kind of shows the person that he is, and I’m excited to be his quarterback for hopefully a long time.” 

Sometimes the most obvious decisions need to be researched and vetted.

“He gets the most out of those around him," Taylor said. "He has the respect of coaches, teammates and everyone he’s played with. You talk to anyone at LSU or OSU, and they all love the guy. We’re excited to add him to the building; that’s the type of character we’re trying to add as we grow this thing. He understands the platform he has being the No. 1 pick playing in his home state. He understands the attention that brings and how to handle himself. We’re excited to get know him even better and work a lot more closely with him.”

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