The Cincinnati Bengals’ marriage with LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is merely days away. Like a groom leading up to his wedding day, Burrow went out and sought advice from others who have taken a similar leap about how they got through it. Of course, we are talking about being picked first overall in the NFL draft, so the list of names to call is a lot shorter.
Burrow was lucky enough to be able to call former Colts’ first overall pick, Peyton Manning, to get his advice about the whole situation.
“He called me about some of the things that I tried to do as a rookie that maybe he can apply to his NFL career,” Manning told ESPN. “Looks like it’s going to be for the Cincinnati Bengals. What I told him, ‘Look, Joe, if you’re the first pick in the NFL draft, you are going to a team that has earned the first pick in the NFL draft. There are going to be some holes there. There’s a reason the Colts were picking No. 1 that year. There’s a reason the Bengals are picking No. 1 this year.’”
Manning does a wonderful job of putting this whole thing in perspective. While the national media has runaway with this narrative that the Bengals are this team that is allergic to winning, he reminds Burrow that he didn’t go to a perfect situation in Indianapolis. Cincinnati absolutely earned the first-overall pick, but the idea is that by picking a player like Burrow, things can get turned around in a year or two.
It also helps that Burrow will have the privilege of throwing to A.J. Green, who missed all of 2019. The team will also be getting their first-round pick from 2019, offensive tackle Jonah Williams, back from injury as well to help with some protection issues. Along with the team revamping its defense in free agency. Still, to expect an immediate turnaround in his rookie season is unrealistic.
“[Your rookie season] is a marathon not a sprint,” Manning said. “Look I lost more games my rookie year than I had my entire high school and college career combined. I threw 26 interceptions my first year. That’s still an NFL record. If Joe wants to break that, I’d be okay with that. We’d still be friends.”
This is a valuable lesson for Burrow as well as the fans. He may be coming off the most impressive season a quarterback has ever had in college with over 5,600 passing yards, 60 touchdowns all while completing just over 76 percent of his passes. It is safe to say he won’t be putting up those numbers in the NFL, and that can be a hard reality to live through as a player.
Luckily, it seems the LSU quarterback already went through that in a way. He struggled in 2018 in his first full year as a starter for the Tigers. You could almost view that as his rookie season for the college level. He had to adjust to his receivers and the speed of SEC football, but it is safe to say in his second season he adjusted.
As a fan, it is easy to get caught up in the notion that the Bengals are spending money, Burrow is coming to town, and players are getting healthy. Maybe they can have an instant turn around? While that is a possibility, it can’t be the expectation. You can’t put that kind of pressure on Burrow’s shoulders in his first season. Expect for him to stumble a bit, but trust that he is going to learn.
Above all else, Manning just wants Burrow to make sure he takes his rookie season as a chance to learn how the NFL works.
“[Then-Colts coach] Jim Mora never took me out [during my rookie season],” Manning said. “I learned some things in the fourth quarter of those blowouts about what it took to be an NFL quarterback, and the next year we went from 3-13 to 13-3. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t have hung in there and learned the ropes as a rookie, even though we took some bumps and bruises.
“So that’s what I tried to encourage Joe and all the other rookie quarterbacks, that your rookie year is not going to be the same as your senior year in college. But if you learn how fast the defensive backs are, how soon you have to get rid of the ball, understand defenses, you can become a better player and really get it going the year or two after that.”
There is no doubt that Burrow will make his rookie mistakes, and at times it may get ugly. However, as a fan base, we have to understand that he has shown in his career and through this process that he absolutely has the mindset of a winner. If he needs to improve something, he will. 2020 may not be Burrow’s year, but it won’t be long before it is.