Leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft, The Post is breaking down the draft class by position in an 11-part series. Tomorrow: running backs.
Where did he come from?
It’s like Joe Burrow was shot out of a cannon sometime before the last college football season began, and here he is: Three weeks away from becoming the first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, which is scheduled to begin April 23.
Before Burrow took a snap under center for LSU in its first game of the 2019 season, most draft experts had the quarterback projected to be picked in the fourth or fifth round, certainly no earlier than the third.
A 15-0 season later, which ended with the Tigers winning the national championship and Burrow finishing the season with an NCAA-high 5,671 passing yards, a 76.3 completion percentage, an NCAA-record 60 touchdown passes and the Heisman Trophy, and here we are.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell probably is clearing his throat and practicing already: “With the first-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select … Joe Burrow.’’
Barring a last-ditch trade-up by, say, the Dolphins, who have three picks in the first round and are as starved for a franchise quarterback as the Bengals are, Cincinnati is going to get what former Jets general manager and current ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum called “exactly what the doctor ordered.’’
“They should turn in that card today and make him the face of the franchise for the next 10 years and count their lucky stars that an Ohio native with his persona, ability, talent and character has fallen into their lap,’’ Tannenbaum told The Post. “If I’m the Cincinnati Bengals, it’s the dream scenario.’’
Burrow already has given his public blessing for the lowly Bengals to pick him, so there won’t be any scenario like Eli Manning in 2004 orchestrating that draft-day trade because he didn’t want to play in San Diego.
Burrow sounds very much like he is — to borrow from the great wordsmith Bill Belichick — on to Cincinnati.
And, based on interviews The Post conducted with several NFL analysts who have scouted Burrow, who transferred to LSU from Ohio State before the 2018 season, this is a very good thing for the Bengals.
“He had an historically great year,’’ Tannenbaum said. “I think his athleticism is really underrated, his decision-making process is outstanding, he has very good accuracy and he gets rid of the ball fast. He has a good arm. I wouldn’t say it’s an all-time great arm, like watching Vinny Testaverde or John Elway. I would put those arms in a class by themselves.’’
Then Tannenbaum delivered this delicious comparison: “His mindset reminds me of Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson in that both try to attack downfield and they break contain when they get out of the pocket.
“I think Burrow is a full-field quarterback. He’s not looking to check it down, he’s looking to get the ball down the field, and that’s really impressive.’’
Tannenbaum described the uber-confident Burrow as “a force multiplier,’’ meaning “he energizes people around him. He has a natural bravado about him.’’
Brady Quinn, the former Notre Dame star quarterback who also played in the NFL and currently serves as an analyst for Fox Sports Radio, CBS and SiriusXM Radio, also heaped praise.
“His pocket movement reminds you of Tom Brady,’’ Quinn said. “Their motions are different and Joe is a better athlete. Joe’s fast. He was a really good basketball player back in high school.’’
The only real question mark about Burrow is whether 2019 was an anomaly in that his statistics were so otherworldly just a year after he led LSU to 10–3 record in 2018 with 2,894 yards passing, 16 TDs and five INTs.
Quinn, though, cited reasons for that.
“He ended up leaving Ohio State after a spring battle with Dwayne Haskins [who went to the Redskins in the first round last year] to be a graduate transfer, so he got [to LSU] a little bit later than I’m sure he wanted to,’’ Quinn said. “That means it’s harder to develop chemistry with those guys, it’s harder to learn the offense. If you go back and watch the second half of 2018, he started to play some really, really good football.’’
Was Burrow a product of his own greatness or the elite talent around him this past season?
Surely, a little bit of both.
“Joe Brady [who was hired as LSU’s passing coordinator in 2019] made a difference and the offense opened up, they had elite running back, two elite receivers, their tight end I think dropped one pass the whole year, and two offensive linemen who are going to be drafted,’’ NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said. “It was an NFL team.’’
“He always has a place to go with the ball, he has an uncanny level of accuracy and he can extend plays,’’ Baldinger said. “You can’t be that kind of accurate without great anticipation. All of that is there.’’
Burrow has been working with quarterback-training guru Jordan Palmer, the brother of former NFL quarterback Carson Palmer, who also works with Jets starter Sam Darnold.
Baldinger noted that in Brady’s system last year, Burrow “worked extensively out of the shotgun, didn’t take any snaps under center.’’ But, Baldinger said he doesn’t see that as a problem, saying, “I’m sure he’s working with Jordan Palmer on five-step, three-step drops and taking the ball from center.
“He knows how to go through progressions very quickly and make really quick decisions and accurate decisions,’’ Baldinger said. “Those are the quarterbacks that end up really flourishing in this league.’’
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