Joe Burrow has risen from mid- to late-round obscurity to almost certainly the first overall pick to the Bengals in 2019 NFL Draft discussions in just a few short months. But how did that happen? Was he always good and everyone missed it? Did he develop into a true future NFL stud or was it just a young quarterback catching magic in a bottle for one spectacular season thanks to the cast surrounding him? Let’s figure this out together.
From the Beginning
As many may know by now, Burrow got a slow start in college recruiting. It wasn’t until after his junior season where he won Ohio High School Football Gatorade Player of the Year that Burrow saw any real Division I attention. But when it rained it poured. He went from a relative unknown in January of 2014 to a four star rating (from 247Sports), offers from a dozen top college football programs, and a commitment to Ohio State in just four months. And looking back now, we all should have known Burrow was going to be special just based on who was interested in recruiting him.
Lincoln Riley, the offensive coordinator for East Carolina back in 2014, was the man primarily responsible for one of Burrow’s very first Division I offers. Riley has of course coached Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts since then for Oklahoma.
Lane Kiffin, still at Alabama at the time, was trying to convince Burrow to consider joining the Crimson Tide.
But it was Tom Herman, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the time with Ohio State, who recruited Burrow to Ohio State.
Sadly, like many college stories told before, Herman left Ohio State (to become the head coach of the Texas Longhorns) before Burrow ever got a real chance to prove himself for the Buckeyes. Burrow took a redshirt season in 2015. Then he watched mainly from the sidelines in 2016 and 2017 in the shadow of J.T. Barrett’s epic college career. And when he finally should have had a chance to earn the Buckeyes quarterback job Burrow injured his throwing hand and saw Dwayne Haskins rise above him in the pecking order.
Thankfully, Burrow entered the transfer portal, found his way to LSU, and quickly put together one of the best college quarterbacking campaigns in history.
College Production and Rise to Stardom
Burrow’s first full season of action doesn’t look like a pro football prospect profile at first glance. However, it’s important to note that it was somewhat of a transition year for the LSU offense. Plus, it was Burrow’s first full season of action as a college quarterback.
Coach Orgeron and LSU’s offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger clearly saw what they potentially had in Burrow and a young, impressive trio of wide receivers. While it wasn’t perfect, the 2018 season was an important transition for LSU’s offense. They had typically been a “ground and pound” offense in recent years. Shifting to a pass happy 11-personnel-driven modern offense wouldn’t be an easy task.
Burrow clearly started out as a game manager in early 2018, just trying to gain full command of the offense. By the end of September it seemed Burrow was hitting his stride as he threw for 292 yards and three scores against Ole Miss. But then he followed that up with four weeks with zero passing touchdowns and three interceptions against Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, and Alabama, losing two of those games. Any progress Burrow had made as a passer was quickly forgotten as LSU’s college football playoff hopes evaporated. However, Burrow finished out his 2018 campaign strong with 664 passing yards and 7 touchdowns against Texas A&M and Central Florida.
After LSU hired Joe Brady as the passing game coordinator to supplement an already improving offense and Burrow got another full summer of practices to gel with his trio of future NFL receivers the stage was set perfectly for an offensive explosion.
By the end of September Burrow had already tossed 17 touchdowns and more than 1,500 passing yards in just four games. His draft stock caught fire like a poorly pixelated basketball in NBA Jam ’96. By the end of the regular season Burrow was buzzing as a potential first overall pick. Then of course he had to go toss seven touchdowns against Oklahoma in the first round of the College Football Playoff just to make sure there weren’t any doubters left.
If Burrow wins the National Championship his 2019 campaign may truly be the best college football season of all time for a quarterback. But what does that mean for his prospects at the next level?
Comps and Future Prospects
Does Burrow’s profile truly hold up as a real No. 1 overall pick? Well, when you combine the power of Grinding the Mocks with our very own Box Score Scout to find some potential NFL comps based on production, physical measurements, and (expected) draft capital here’s what we find:
|SimScore||Player||School||From||To||Height||Weight||Games||DraftPos||PaYPG||PaAYA||RuYPG||Final PaYds||Final PaAYA||Final Comp%|
|96||Geno Smith||West Virginia||2009||2012||74||218||44||39||265.05||8.65||7.77||4205||9.22||71.24%|
|92||Garrett Grayson||Colorado State||2011||2014||74||213||37||75||248.38||8.32||7.54||4006||10.31||64.29%|
|90||Brandon Weeden||Oklahoma State||2008||2011||75||221||30||22||308.67||8.66||-5.00||4727||8.66||72.34%|
|80||Will Grier||West Virginia||2015||2018||74||217||28||100||305.64||9.66||5.11||3864||10.69||67.00%|
Obviously there’s no Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray comparisons since Burrow didn’t run the ball a bunch. However, Burrow absolutely looks like a No. 1 overall pick kind of quarterback.
His adjusted yards attempt numbers are similar to the likes of Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, and Baker Mayfield. His final season completion percentage is otherworldly, not to mention the film side of Burrow’s game is just as promising. Burrow was clearly just figuring out the offense in 2018, finding himself. But 2019 Burrow was checking at the line, maneuvering the pocket, evading pressure, and throwing receivers open.
Burrow’s game isn’t perfect just yet, but given his meteoric rise in level of play, statistical efficiency, and physical tools there’s no reason he shouldn’t be the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.