Joe Burrow unfazed by pressure in quest to resurrect the Bengals
Joe Burrow hasn't thrown an NFL pass. He wasn't even a starting quarterback two years ago.
Life has changed quickly for 23-year-old. His rise from backup, to starter, to Heisman Trophy winner and national champion has been well documented.
The Bengals selected Burrow with the No. 1 pick in last month's NFL Draft because they believe he can help turn around a franchise that has been stuck in the mud. Cincinnati has had four straight losing seasons. Their most successful runs have ended with heartbreaking postseason losses. The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since January 6, 1991.
There's pressure that comes with being the top pick in any draft. That pressure grows when you go No. 1 and are taken by a team in your home state. This organization is looking for someone to take them to new heights.
Burrow is more than just a quarterback. He's a beacon of hope for the City of Cincinnati and Bengals fans everywhere.
The expectations for Burrow are sky-high. Bengals fans think he's the elite quarterback that Carson Palmer appeared to be 15 years ago.
Palmer was as gifted as any quarterback to suit up for the Bengals, but he wasn't the leader that the team needed to stay afloat after a dreadful 2010 season.
Andy Dalton came along and exceeded expectations. He helped the Bengals make make the playoffs in each of his first five seasons in the NFL (2011-2015). He had success, but he didn't have the physical traits to put the team on his back the way an elite quarterback is required to do in critical moments.
The Bengals have had good, but not great quarterback play over the past 18 years.
They drafted Burrow with the belief that his record setting season at LSU was just a sign of things to come in the pros.
"Both statistically, and just watching him, he is the most accurate [quarterback] I’ve graded in the NFL so far," Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. "The only guy that was probably close in terms of [being] a total package was Andrew Luck when he came out. He [Burrow] is exceptionally accurate. It’s by far one of his greatest strengths.”
The fan base has high expectations for Burrow. They believe he can be an elite player in the NFL. He's top-10 in jersey sales. There's a buzz around the Bengals for the first time in years.
A pre-draft poll question shows how much fans believe in their new quarterback.
Deshaun Watson is one of the best signal-callers in the NFL. The 2-time Pro Bowler has thrown for 9,716 yards and 71 touchdowns in three seasons. He's led the Texans to a 24-13 record over that span.
The Bengals would be happy if Burrow ended up being as good as Watson. Everyone expects a lot from him in 2020 and beyond.
"I’m going to work as hard as I can to bring winning to Cincinnati," Burrow said after being drafted. "Whatever they need me to do, I’m going to do it. Hopefully I can bring something to the team that is positive and brings about wins.”
There are a lot of people that fold under pressure. It's magnified in professional sports because of the spectators watching, but most people struggle when the pressure is at its' highest.
Burrow dealt with plenty of pressure last season. Once LSU won its' first seven games, going undefeated became a realistic goal. They beat Auburn at home in Week 8 and then Burrow competed 80 percent of his passes in a 46-41 road win over Alabama.
There was pressure to perform on a national stage. That only grew throughout the season. It's something he dealt with for the remainder of the year.
Burrow will have to overcome the pressure of resurrecting the Bengals, much like he did last season when he led LSU to its' first national championship since 2007.
He didn't flinch when asked about the pressure that comes with being the top pick.
"Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. I’m not going to focus on that," Burrow said. "I’m going to focus on putting in the work every day to become the best player I can be. The media loves to talk about pressure, and I think some guys let it get to them. I think if I put in the work, that pressure will be mitigated.”
An Ohio kid returning to his home state to help lead an NFL franchise to its' first ever championship sounds like a fairy tale. That's exactly what this could be for Burrow and the Bengals.
A 2-14 team suddenly has hope and belief that they can become much more.
“Teams are picking at the top of the draft for a reason. I’m not going to sacrifice my standards of play, and I expect to go out and win every single football game, but you also have to be realistic," Burrow said. "I’ve gone through ups and downs. And through the entire process, I’ve just kept working hard, and kept faith in that preparation and that hard work to get me to this point. And that’s exactly what I’m going to keep doing through the ups and downs this next year and the years to follow.”
The Bengals hope this is just the start of a story that has a fairy tale ending.