Savior. Future. Franchise.
These words, and many more laudatory terms, have been used to describe Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow over the past year or so. From the moment the team locked up the number one pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the former LSU great has been the favorite topic of conversation among fans in the Queen City. Anyone doubting that can just visit social media for a few moments and see that he has become the face of Cincinnati sports (sorry Nick Castellanos). He is Mr Everything, but is that fair?
Burrow, as everyone knows, dominated in his final season at LSU, setting records along the way. He won the Heisman and a National Championship in 2019, launching himself from “later-round potential” to the first overall pick of the draft. He had the greatest season for a quarterback in college football history, and Bengals fans were ecstatic. Not only were they getting a great player, but he was an Ohio kid, having went to high school in Athens. He was also a former Ohio State Buckeye before transferring to LSU.
The Bengals, for their part, were starting over after nearly a decade with Andy Dalton as their starter. Always solid, never spectacular, Dalton was a popular player, even if he had his detractors. Failures in big games led to even more frustration from long-suffering fans who desperately wanted to get their first playoff win since the early 1990s. Enter Joe Burrow.
Bengals fans had no qualms about selecting Burrow, but he wasn’t as universally praised as some former top picks. Questions, primarily about his arm strength, were out there, though most were willing to overlook them because the positives vastly out-weighed the negatives.
Burrow’s rookie season showed both sides of the coin. His raw numbers were terrific, especially for a rookie passer starting right away without a true offseason. He completed 65% of his passes for nearly 2,700 yards, he had 13 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions, and he proved to be a good runner with the ball as well. He displayed the confidence and accuracy that were his trademark in college. The arm issues showed up as well though. Burrow was terrible on downfield throws, and struggled on passes over 20 yards. His yards per attempt numbers were among the league’s worst. He also took a lot of sacks. The Bengals offensive line was atrocious, but Burrow also held onto the ball too long at times and tried to do too much at others. Eventually, and unfortunately, disaster struck and a sack ended Burrow’s rookie year. His knee was seriously injured and a city was stunned.
After successful surgery and a speedy recovery, Burrow looks to be on track for a fully healthy second season. Fans are excited, as they should be. However, should they temper their expectations for this year and beyond?
As far as 2021 is concerned, it’s fair to be cautious. The knee injury Burrow suffered was devastating and there’s no guarantee he won’t have lingering issues. Until he plays on it, there’s know way to know not only where he stands physically, but mentally. Toughness is a way of life for the young QB though, so it will surprise nobody if he picks up where he left off.
For the long-term, well, telling fans to slow down might be impossible. That cat is out of the bag. The genii can’t be put back in the bottle. There are clear areas where Burrow needs to be better. It’s a passing league and if he can’t improve on his deep ball, his career ceiling is limited. A better offensive line will help, and the addition of former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase certainly doesn’t hurt.
Is the hype for Joe Burrow unfair? Probably. He’s one year into his career, and a shortened one at that. If you ask fans, though. He showed enough. There is no convincing them that he won’t be an MVP and eventual Super Bowl winner. The hype is real. Is it a sure-thing that he will be as great as everyone thinks? Nothing is a sure-thing, but let’s allow Bengals star safety Jessie Bates have the last word on the matter.