Joe Burrow’s football career transformation took another huge step Thursday night when the Cincinnati Bengals selected LSU’s Heisman Trophy winner as the first pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
Burrow joined Heisman Trophy winning halfback Billy Cannon (1960) and quarterback JaMarcus Russell (2007) as the only Tigers’ chosen as the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Also, Burrow is the second LSU player drafted in the first round by Cincinnati. The first was running back Charles Alexander in 1979, who started for the Bengals in their Super Bowl 16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
There was no draft night suspense for Burrow. Bengals president Mike Brown officially welcomed Burrow to Cincinnati on Wednesday. He sent Burrow a letter saying he looked forward to ” to building championship football teams with you for many years to come.”
With the draft being cancelled from its original site in Las Vegas because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NFL conducted the draft practicing social distancing policies. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell conducted from the basement of his Bronxville, N.Y. home.
Burrow watched the draft from his home in The Plains, Ohio with his parents Jimmy and Robin Burrow.
“To jump up to No. 1 overall is crazy to me, it’s a dream come true,” Burrow told ESPN’s Suzy Kolber.
Two years ago, Burrow was a graduate transfer from Ohio State looking for a new home after then-Urban Meyer chose Dwayne Haskins as the starter after spring practice. Last season, Haskins was a first-round draft pick (No. 15 overall) by the Washington Redskins and started seven games,
Meanwhile after his first season at LSU in 2018, Burrow was considered a mid-to-late round 2020 draft prospect before he exploded in the Tigers’ revamped offensive scheme this past season when LSU went 15-0 and won its fourth national championship.
Operating an offense that set NCAA records for points and total offense, he became the only player in the 87-year of the SEC history to throw for 5,000 yards (5,671) and 50 TDs (60, an NCAA record) in a season. He set nine SEC single-season records.
Earlier this week, Pro Football of Fame quarterback Brett Favre told TMZ News that “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen any college player better than he played last year. . .best college team I’ve ever seen and the best play by a college quarterback in history.”
In a recent interview on the Baton Rouge ESPN 104.5 FM morning show “Off the Bench, Burrow described his LSU career as “two separate sections.”
“You had last season (2019) and the off-season leading up to it,” Burrow said. “Then, you had the whirlwind first year when I was just kind of learning how to Louisiana and play with those guys, play the kind of offense we were playing.
“That first six months was learning how to do all that stuff and be successful and then. The next off-season was a bunch of fun. We knew exactly what we were going to do, we knew the kind of people we had and the kind of team we were going to have.
“So, the last eight to 10 months starting back last January was just a lot of fun because we knew exactly what was going to happen.”
There had been pre-draft speculation that the Bengals might be swayed by trade offers for Burrow, particularly from Miami which had the fifth overall pick.
But from the first time Burrow had extensive meeting with the Cincinnati braintrust at the NFL combine, the Bengals were convinced they had their man.
Bengals’ player personnel director Duke liked Burrow’s ability to adapt to different offensive systems.
“He can play within the system and execute the system and he can play outside the system if he has to,” Tobin said. “In today’s game that’s pretty important. He’s shown the ability on third down when he has to play outside of the system when he has to and get those big first downs.
“The mark of any good quarterback is how they do on third down and he’s very good there. There’s a lot to like about Joe on tape from what we’ve seen.”
Burrow is joining a franchise that has had four straight losing seasons, a cumulative record of 21-42-1 (33.5 percent) since 2016. Before that the Bengals had a 13-year stretch dating back to 2003 in which it won the AFC North Division four times (most recently 2015), finished second four times and seven playoff appearances (all wild card game losses) including five straight 2011 to 2015.
Cincinnati has not won a playoff game since 1989, two years after it lost 20-16 to San Francisco in Super Bowl 23.
Burrow is the sixth quarterback the Bengals have drafted in the first round in the 58-year history of their franchise.
The first four – Greg Cook (1969 No. 5 overall), Jack Thompson (1979, No. 3), David Klingler (1992, No. 6) and Akili Smith (1999, No. 4) – played four seasons or fewer and started a combined 58 of 109 games.
Then came USC QB Carson Palmer in 2003, who until Burrow was the Bengals’ only No. 1 overall pick ever. He started in all 97 games he played in seven seasons before demanding and receiving a trade.
In the last 16 drafts since Palmer was the Cincy pick in ’03, the Bengals have drafted nine QBs including eight in the fourth round or worse. Current Cincinnati starter Andy Dalton, who has started in all 137 games (133 regular season, four playoffs) in his nine-year career, was a second-round draft choice in 2011 (No. 35 overall.)
Since Burrow has played for winning teams just about his entire high school and college careers, the subject has been broached if he can handle playing for a losing franchise in the process of trying to flip it into a consistent playoff contender.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron doesn’t see that as a problem for someone he believes is the smartest player he’s ever coached.
“Joe hasn’t had a silver spoon in his mouth, he’s had to fight all his life,” Orgeron said earlier this week. “If he does have to fight, in maybe Cincinnati, he’s willing to fight for that. He’s willing to build a team, willing to go through adversity if he has to.
“Nothing was promised to him here. He came here with faith and built a championship team. I don’t see why not he couldn’t do it at Cincinnati.”