Do you remember when Tiger Woods won the Players Championship back in 2001? Of course you don’t. Only people who watch golf, like myself, do.
Woods made a seemingly impossible putt on the famous island green on hole 17 during the third round. While the ball began trickling down the rigorous slope and towards the hole, the words “better than most” left the mouth of NBC’s Gary Koch, who was on the call.
After a few twists and turns by the ball—which acted as a heat-seeking missile towards the cup—Koch’s creative broadcasting mind could only think to repeat that phrase before the Nike swoosh on the ball dropped into the hole. A triumphant fist pump followed from Woods, and 19 holes later, a trophy did as well.
What looked like an impossible birdie attempt from the onset seemed more and more feasible due to the craftiness and instinctual touch from the best player in the sport. It’s funny how when can’t always describe greatness, the best examples of it come from the most intricate of happenings.
Better than most. That’s what I think of when I ponder about who 23-year old Joe Burrow is, and who he can very well be 10 years down the line in his NFL career.
That putt seems to connect itself to Burrow’s play style and football life up to this point. His path to the No. 1 overall draft pick was not a straight line. Without a handful of things going his way, he doesn’t shoot up draft boards in an exponential rush.
It’s not the raw traits that excite you about him. He isn’t going to top Patrick Mahomes on the radar gun. He isn’t going to beat Lamar Jackson in a foot race. Like putting downhill, Burrow doesn’t win because of power and force.
Intellect, touch, and confidence. These traits are what made the end of Burrow’s college career feel like a 60-foot putt for birdie. Coincidentally, these are the traits that separate the fake quarterback prospects from the real ones.
In every sense of the phrase, Joe Burrow is a real one; and while he’s not quite the holy grail of quarterback prospects, he’s got what most imperfect players lack.
- Position: Quarterback
- School: LSU
- Year: Redshirt Senior
- Date of Birth: 12/10/1996
- Height: 6’3 1/2”
- Weight: 221
- Arm: 30 7/8”
- Hand: 9”
- 2018: 13 games, 219/379 (57.8%), 2,894 yards (7.6 yds/att), 16 touchdowns, 5 interceptions
- 2019: 15 games, 402/527 (76.3%), 5,671 yards (10.8 yds/att), 60 touchdowns, 6 interceptions
Career Production-Based Outlook (per James Cobern’s data)
79.49 career production score — this score eclipses the:
- Long-term Starter threshold score
- Multiple Pro Bowl threshold score
- Multiple All-Pro threshold score
- Long-term Starter average score
- Multiple Pro Bowl average score
Highest conceivable potential: Multiple Pro Bowl
What he does well
Let’s just go in chronological order here. Burrow’s mental approach to the quarterback position is exactly what you want. He’s a hyper-focused leader that gets himself and his teammates in the right mindset from a preparation standpoint. Contribute it to the chip on his shoulder or maybe recognize this is just his personality. He’s got the intangibles that evaluators dream of. We can only go off of what people say about him, and they’ve only said good things.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s focus on the things we can actually judge.
The extensive pre-game preparation takes him only as far as the first snap. From there, Burrow continues his work by being an M.D. in the pre-snap phase. When LSU evolved their offense under passing game coordinator Joe Brady’s influence, this made Burrow the general of a predominantly spread offense. Making checks, adjusting protections, and diagnosing coverages before they were even deployed allowed Burrow to consistently stay one step ahead of the competition.
Now the ball is snapped. Burrow’s feet are as quiet as a monk. It’s like a dance that he’s practiced all his life, and he can simply focus on where his progressions take him. While he’s looking the part of a prototypical pocket passer, he blazes through full-field reads and manages to hold defenders and open up throwing windows that barely even existed.
Sure, he’s got an offensive line featuring at least three draft picks this year. But everyone gets beat, especially in the SEC. When pressure barreled its way towards Burrow, no quarterback in the country handled it better. Burrow maneuvers around would-be sackers with efficient and balanced footwork; always with his eyes downfield and two hands on the football. When he’s forced to escape the pocket or throw under duress, he displays an innate understanding of where the football needs to go.
We’re now getting to the arm. His throwing motion does not include a lightning-fast release, but it’s quick enough. It’s hard to nitpick because he’s one of the more accurate quarterbacks in college football history. Nobody completes over 75% of their passes when averaging over 10 yards per attempt. That’s preposterous.
Burrow’s placement, touch, and timing are all on levels that would envy most NFL quarterbacks. Success shouldn’t be surprising considering the competency of his throwing mechanics, but consistently carving up the best defenses in the nation is an act we’ve never quite seen before.
joe burrow's passing chart vs. the 5 toughest defenses he faced in 2019.— john sheeran (@John__Sheeran) January 29, 2020
- read the fine print at the top
- none of these numbers are really surprising
- his completion% on throws beyond 20 yards almost matched andy dalton's total completion% in 2019
- the bengals have this data pic.twitter.com/SCqWenvlbm
The clean pocket production is what translates the most on a year-to-year basis, but being able to make positive plays under pressure—to create out of structure—has never been more pertinent in NFL quarterbacking. It ultimately might be what separates Burrow apart from his predecessor, Andy Dalton.
Burrow was the best quarterback under pressure according to Pro Football Focus. His 80.5 grade tops everyone, and dwarfs how Tua Tagovailoa (46.6) and Justin Herbert (57.9) did in that regard last year.
Passing grade under pressure:— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 25, 2020
1. Joe Burrow, LSU - 80.5
2. Tanner Morgan, Minnesota - 79.8 pic.twitter.com/oMkmS8zCnX
When Burrow decides that it’s best for him to keep the ball, he’s far from a statue. For his size, he’s faster than you’d expect him to be with the ball in his hands. Burrow can eat up ground with long strides in the open field, and this will make defenders honest (to an extent) when plays break down in the NFL.
When he gets hit—in the pocket or outside of it—it’s rare to see Burrow rattled because of it. Come to think of it, Burrow just doesn’t get rattled, period. Toughness seems to be the underlying characteristic everybody claims Burrow has. He’s gone through the tribulations of being a transfer quarterback, transferring from the one major program that offered him a scholarship in the first place nonetheless. His voyage was not for the weak, but his approach and demeanor remained the same throughout the highs and lows.
As archaic as it seems, labeling Burrow as a winner has its reasons. Going 13-0 in the SEC, winning the Heisman Trophy by the largest margin in history, and coming out on top in the College Football Playoff by a total margin of 52 points is an unprecedented journey. The most important thing to remember here is that while his accolades came in one year, he’s not a true one-year wonder. There were clear glimpses of Burrow’s transcendence towards the end of his 2018 season; he just needed one more year to put it all together.
Where he’s more limited
It’s really just the velocity. That’s it. When you accept that he’s got just decent power behind his throws from the far hash, it goes from a potential red flag to just a word of caution.
While Burrow is accurate all over the field, there are times where he puts a little too much air under his long throws. The ball doesn’t get there on a frozen rope like when Aaron Rodgers does it, but he won’t always be able to get away with slight under throws on deep routes.
You trust Burrow to get the ball out quickly, but he can get opportunistic at times and hold onto it a little too long. This will lead to more sacks in the NFL than it did in college, but the crux of the issue comes from the desire to create. That’s something you not only can’t teach at the professional level, but wouldn’t want to take away either.
Fit with the Bengals
Made you look.
He’s it. There’s nothing else to say. He’s not perfect. He’s not going to wow you with the throws that Justin Herbert or Jordan Love may make twice a game. He doesn’t have the high-level production over a span of multiple years that Tua Tagovailoa does. But after going through the evaluation process, he possesses the least amount of risk of any quarterback in this class that looks the part.
This is who Burrow has always been. Seasons like this past one don’t just come out of nowhere. The supreme mental makeup mixed with a game based around precision and occasional improvisation makes for a promising projection. If you were told your team drafted the physical talent of Tony Romo with the mind of Tom Brady, wouldn’t you say that’s worth the No. 1 pick?
He may not become a multiple All-Pro passer, but it’s tough to imagine a quarterback this mentally and mechanically gifted to become anything less than an above average player at the position.
Or, more simply, better than most.