ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 28: Joe Burrow #9 of the LSU Tigers plays against the Oklahoma Sooners during the College Football Playoff Semifinal in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. NFL Draft
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

LSU’s Joe Burrow is a special quarterback prospect and the best one in the 2020 NFL Draft, but he comes with his own set of question marks. 

Kyle Newman

The Cincinnati Bengals have been on the clock since their season ended on Dec. 29. While they aren’t allowed to announce the pick until April 23, the world knows who they’ll be taking. Joe Burrow is the best quarterback prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft and the best quarterback prospect in years.

Despite reports of his unwillingness to play for a losing franchise, Burrow is set to join his hometown team for the 2020 season. That should both excite and worry Bengals fans.

Teams like the New York Jets, New York Giants, and Cleveland Browns should be warnings to the Bengals. Drafting a quarterback could change a franchise if done at the right time, but if a team doesn’t have the talent around them it could just as easily ruin them.

The Bengals don’t have much around Burrow right now. They don’t have even an average offensive line, they have just one starting level receiver on the roster, and they have no tight end to be a safety blanket.

Burrow’s status as an elite prospect might not matter if he isn’t given the talent he needs to flourish. That’s if Burrow is the quarterback everyone expects him to be, which isn’t a sure thing. What is a sure thing is the massive odds for Joe Burrow to be the #1 pick in the draft.

Production

Joe Burrow was not a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He was a four-star recruit and ranked 280th in the country. That’s why when he got to Ohio State they redshirt him instead of allowing him to be a part of their wide-open quarterback competition.

Three quarterbacks played for the Buckeyes in 2015, none of them were Burrow. He spent his redshirt freshman year as J.T. Barrett’s backup. He got into just five games and he was impressive when called upon.

He completed 78.6% of passes for 8.1 yards per attempts, two TDs, and zero INTs. That was the most successful Burrow would be in Columbus. In his third year on campus, he was third on the depth chart behind Barrett and top recruit Dwayne Haskins. Burrow threw only 11 attempts in 2017.

That was the last straw as Burrow transferred away from his hometown school and ended up at LSU. Burrow was eligible to start immediately as a graduate transfer, he graduated from Ohio State in just three years.

In 2018, Burrow was named the starting quarterback for LSU. He was far from the elite prospect many know and love now. Burrow struggled mightily in his first year as a starter.

He completed just 57.8% of his passes for 2,894 yards, 16 TDs, and five INTs. Only one receiver topped 370 yards, Justin Jefferson, in a dreadful year. It wasn’t a lack of talent that hurt LSU, the lineup wasn’t much different than the 2019 lineup.

It could have been an adjustment issue, or maybe the pressure got to him. Whatever the reason, Burrow overcame it in 2019 and put together the most impressive display of any quarterback prospect this century.

Burrow completed 76.3% of his passes for 5,671 yards, 60 TDs, and six INTs. His 2020 season is one of the most impressive statistical displays in the history of college football, but it was just one season.

Teams aren’t going to be scared off because Burrow only has one season of elite production, but it is a reason to potentially be wary.

Athleticism

Joe Burrow skipped the combine so it’s hard to know exactly where he is athletically. That said, it’s clear that he isn’t a stone footed pocket passer, nor is he a Lamar Jackson-esque scrambler.

He’s a chain mover and only runs when he feels the need too. When the pocket breaks down or he feels the coverage is too tight he’ll take off. It can be back-breaking for teams when he escapes the pocket and turns nothing into a first down.

It’s unclear how Burrow would put his rushing skills to work in the NFL, but given his proficiency from the pocket, it’s unlikely he runs as much as similar athletic QBs like Josh Allen. He’s more likely to fit into the Ben Roethlisberger or Daniel Jones style of QB who runs only as a last resort or when an opportunity is too good to pass up.

It’s most likely that his athleticism will be put to work in the pocket where he’ll show off his ability to deftly evade pressure.

Burrow isn’t the most athletic quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft class, but he’s athletic enough to keep defenses second-guessing.

Strengths

Burrow has one of the best football minds of any quarterback in recent draft history. His football IQ is through the roof and it’s what makes him a special prospect.

His ability to diagnose coverages and blitzes pre-snap is outstanding and his knowledge of how to beat every play called is unrivaled. On top of that Burrow has shown the ability to bait corners and safeties out of coverages to create openings for his receivers. There’s nothing that Burrow can’t do from the pocket if given enough time to process the defense.

His accuracy and touch are incredible. Burrow was able to throw into impossible windows and even create windows that weren’t there for his receivers. That holds true down the field as well.

Burrow has a rare talent for throwing the deep ball completing 55% of passes 20+ yards down the field with only two INTs. There’s a question of whether the elite talent he had at receiver made those deep throws easier or not. That may be true, but it doesn’t take away from the elite touch he showed on those throws.

He can turn nothing into something on any given play. His ability to create on broken plays with either his legs or arm helped him defeat some of college football’s best defenses.

Weaknesses

Joe Burrow isn’t a perfect prospect. He’s got his fair share of weaknesses that make him as big a gamble as any other top quarterback prospect in the last few years.

Burrow has scary bad arm strength. When he has his feet set and there’s no pressure his arm strength is good enough to work at the NFL level. Pressure him at all or get him on the run and it’s a whole other story.

He was able to survive in college making throws on the run with poor arm strength, but in those tight-window throws on the run are much harder in the NFL. If he’s not careful he could turn into a turnover machine due to his hero ball nature and poor arm strength combination.

His poor arm strength also limits the field for him. Burrow’s accuracy numbers drop significantly on throws outside the numbers. Those throws are necessary to be a successful quarterback in the NFL. If he can’t hit sideline throws with consistency his NFL career will be a short one.

It doesn’t help that Burrow was a one-year wonder college. That makes one wonder if the combination of offensive play-caller Joe Brady along with two first-round prospects at receiver and a day two running back were the reason for his turn around rather than an improvement in his ability.

Any NFL team that drafts Burrow is going to have to scheme around his limitations. It can be done just ask Tom Brady. However, Burrow is likely going to need a strong offensive play-caller to carry him early in his career.

NYY

NYM

NYG

NYJ

NYK

BKN

NYR

NYI

NJD

SJU