The most notable change for the Bengals in 2020 will be at the quarterback position where first overall selection Joe Burrow will take the reigns of the offense.
While the Bengals are coming off of a season where wins were hard to come by, Burrow arrives in Cincinnati following an undefeated National Championship year at LSU.
Can this established winner lead the Bengals to a championship of their own?
Hometown: Athens, OH
Burrow signed a 4-year, $36,190,137 contract with the Bengals, including a $23,880,100 signing bonus, $36,190,137 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $9,047,534, per Spotrac. In 2020, Burrow will earn a base salary of $610,000 and a signing bonus of $23,880,100, while carrying a cap hit of $6,580,025 and a dead cap value of $36,190,137.
Burrow was born in Ames, IA. Prior to Joe’s birth, his father, Jim Burrow, had been an assistant coach at Iowa State University, but after a staff change, Jim took a coaching position at Ames High School.
But it was Jim’s next job that would have a profound impact on Joe’s future. In 2001, Jim accepted a graduate assistant position at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska. There he worked under head coach Frank Solich and defensive coordinator Craig Bohl.
In 2003, Bohl, who would later coach Logan Wilson at the University of Wyoming, left Nebraska to become the head coach at North Dakota State University, taking Jim with him as his defensive coordinator.
In 2004, Solich was fired by Nebraska and replaced with Bill Callahan. A year later, while Callahan was recruiting a transfer quarterback named Zac Taylor, Solich was named the head coach at Ohio University and brought Jim with him as his defensive coordinator.
This is how Joe Burrow came to see Athens, OH as his home.
Although Burrow wanted to be a Cornhusker like his father and brothers before him, no offer came, and he ended up joining J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones in a crowded Ohio State quarterback room. At Ohio State, he played with future Bengals Vonn Bell, Billy Price, Michael Jordan, Isaiah Prince, and Sam Hubbard.
But it was neither Nebraska nor Ohio State where Burrow would put himself on the college football map. With the departure of Barrett and Jones, Dwayne Haskins became the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes. Burrow, having graduated in three years, transferred to LSU.
Burrow did not arrive in Baton Rouge until after spring practice, so he had a few short weeks of fall camp to acclimate to the LSU offense and become familiar with his offensive weapons. Burrow’s play in his first season as a starter did not inspire lofty NFL expectations, but by the end of the season he was playing pretty well.
That offseason, LSU brought in Joe Brady as passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. He and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger changed the LSU offense to give Burrow more options and make best use of his ability to read a defense.
This had a huge impact on what would happen the following season, but so did something else which is much less talked about. That offseason Burrow got to participate in his first and only spring practice at LSU which was also his only spring ball as a named starting quarterback.
He made the most of it, staying late after practice, throwing extra balls to Justin Jefferson and his other receivers, building a rapport. Burrow and his pass catchers continued to get together on their own time throughout the summer.
What happened in 2019 was a result of not only the opportunity created by the change in offensive philosophy, but the effort that Burrow and his teammates put into taking full advantage of it.
LSU went on to a National Championship. Burrow had arguably the greatest season in college football history. He threw for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns while completing 76.3% of his passes and throwing only six interceptions and winning the Heisman Trophy.
Great 3rd down conversion by Burrow pic.twitter.com/ZrGuFgbAU2— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) October 20, 2019
Burrow could immediately solve a number of the Bengals’ issues from the 2019 season, not the least of which was converting red zone appearances into touchdowns. Burrow’s accuracy, touch, and ability to make plays outside of the structure of the play will all help the team get the ball into the end zone.
He is an excellent fit for the Bengals’ offense and receiving corps. His timing and precision on passes over the middle are perfect for hitting Tyler Boyd in tight windows, while his expertise throwing the back-shoulder on the deep outside fade will be perfect for A.J. Green, Auden Tate, and Tee Higgins. Finally, he has the arm strength and deep-field accuracy to stretch the field and hit John Ross in stride.
Burrow also has the flexibility to adjust to what the defense is throwing at him. Early in 2019 he had great success playing with a style similar to Drew Brees: precision passes thrown with expert timing.
Later, as teams started to drop more players into coverage and let him sit in the pocket, he adapted to more of a Patrick Mahomes style: taking his time and creating big time plays outside of structure.
In the National Championship game Clemson tried to play tight in coverage to take away the quick passes, while sending pressure at Burrow. He adjusted and although his completion percentage was by far his worst of the season, Burrow threw for 463 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions on his way to the win.
Unfortunately, there were no live OTAs this offseason, so Burrow did not have the chance to develop a rapport with his new wide receivers in Cincinnati. While extra work with his receivers played a big part in his Year 2 success at LSU and is likely to do the same in 2021 in Cincinnati, it does not mean he cannot have a successful rookie campaign.
Here are a few reasons why:
- First, as a point of precedent, Green and Andy Dalton were drafted during a lockout offseason and still led the Bengals to the playoffs as rookies in 2011 despite the lack of OTAs.
- Also, despite the virtual offseason, Burrow has managed to impress coaches and teammates with his command of the offense.
- Finally, Burrow prepared like a starting NFL quarterback at LSU. He was playing in an NFL system and while taking a light grad school schedule, he would start his preparations for their next opponent the day after the previous game and was tested by coaches the following day. He understands what it takes to be an NFL quarterback.
Burrow will help the Bengals offense take a big step forward in 2020. Yes, he will make plenty of rookie mistakes, but he will also have some flashes that make you excited about the future in Cincinnati. Although it is likely that the big jump will come the following year, he will make them instantly more competitive.
Burrow will make the roster and be a Day 1 starter for the Bengals.
Roster Odds: 100%