I know it, you know it, even he knows it. Joe Burrow will become the fifth quarterback drafted first overall in the last six years and the third straight Heisman winner next week – unless Cincinnati shocks the world with an absurd trade at the top of the draft order. Over the course of three days, nearly 200 hopeful prospects will have their dreams realised during the 2020 NFL Draft, but Burrow’s journey to being drafted first overall is unlike anything we’ve ever seen from a collegiate quarterback.
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Football has been part of Joe Burrow’s life ever since he was even born. His father Jim Burrow was a former college, CFL and NFL player who embarked on a coaching career that spanned for nearly 40 years. During his playing days, Jim stood out as a defensive back, with Joe’s brothers Dan and Jamie opting for a similar footballing path – both playing at the University of Nebraska.
With an impressive athletic lineage coming before him, it seemed like a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’ the youngest Burrow was to succeed. He opted to take a different route than his dad, uncle and brothers by playing quarterback as a youngster instead of lining up on defense, with Joe carving out a niche as a handy basketballer during his high school days as well. Of course, he excelled on the gridiron, capturing back-to-back Gatorade Player of the Year awards while passing for over 11,000 yards and rushing for another 2,000+ yards. The highly-touted Athens High School QB was one of the best dual-threat prospects in the class of 2015 and it didn’t take long for Burrow to commit to Ohio State – bucking (pun intended) the family tradition and joining one of Nebraska’s conference rivals.
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Upon arriving at Ohio State, Burrow found himself behind J.T. Barrett on the depth chart, but that didn’t stop him from doing everything in his power to dethrone the current starter. Barrett held onto the job for the 2016 season with Burrow still managing to appear in five games as a backup – completing 22 of his 28 pass attempts and throwing his first two career touchdown passes. 2017 was a very similar story with the arrival of Dwayne Haskins only further hampering Burrow’s chances of becoming the Buckeye’s QB1.
Barrett went on to finish his collegiate career as the best quarterback in school history; so failing to topple him as a starter was understandable from Burrow’s perspective. However, when he found himself in a familiar position behind Haskins following spring camp the next year, it was time for a change. Burrow transferred to LSU in late May 2018 and with two years of eligibility left he was ready to finally have an impact as a starter for the Tigers.
His first season at Baton Rouge was a moderately successful one with Burrow finishing the year with 2,894 passing yards (36th in the nation) and 16 TD’s (64th in the nation) while leading LSU to a 10-3 record. Those numbers hardly jump off the page and a lot of NFL experts were predicting that the Tigers quarterback would be a 3rd or 4th round pick once he turned pro following his senior season. The writing was on the wall for Burrow to end his collegiate career with a bang, finishing 2018 with a Fiesta Bowl win against UCF while throwing for 394 passing yards and four touchdowns. However, no one was ready for what Burrow had in store over the next 15 games.
There is a reason why Burrow’s 2019 season has been labelled the greatest single-season performance by a quarterback ever, with head coach Ed Oregon and new offensive coordinator Joe Brady helping to unlock their starter’s potential. There weren’t too many dramatic changes in Burrow’s game from his junior season with most of his traits and throwing mechanics staying the same, and yet, there was a clear difference between the way Burrow played in year three compared to year four.
Confidence was a big driving force behind Burrow’s historic leap – something that he has rarely lacked but wasn’t able to fully showcase on the big stage in his first three college seasons. That all changed throughout the 2019 campaign as Burrow lifted his production and went from a mediocre middle-rounder to a top-5 talent. His lowest passing yard total came in LSU’s first game of their year against Georgia Southern where he threw for 278 yards and five scores. From that game onwards, Burrow only went under 320 passing yards once, throwing at least three touchdowns in all but two games.
The end result of Burrow’s senior year was a statistical season for the ages, with LSU’s quarterback not only leading the NCAA in passing with 5,671 yards (the 3rd most ever by a collegiate QB), but he was deadly accurate in doing so – finishing with the highest completion percentage in the nation (76.3% on 402-of-527 passing). Those numbers translated to an NCAA record 60 touchdown passes from Burrow as well, with his golden arm leading to an abundance of accolades including the coveted Heisman Trophy. Since the award’s inception in 1935, there have been 79 different Heisman winners, but none of them won by as wide a margin as Burrow did, recording a landslide victory and 93.8% of the possible votes.
All the stats sound great and look good on paper, but there are two numbers that stand out from Joe’s final year at LSU – 15 and 0. The Tigers didn’t lose a single game during the 2019 season and Burrow’s level of play only improved as the spotlight grew greater. He dominated the SEC title game (349 passing yards, 4 total TD’s), effectively ending Georgia’s chances of making the College Football Playoff. Three weeks later, Burrow threw seven first-half touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma in a 63-28 win that saw LSU earn a berth in the National Championship game against the reigning champion Clemson Tigers. There were no big-game jitters for Burrow with the title on the line either, accounting for over 500 yards of offence in LSU’s 42-25 triumph and etching his name into college football folklore.
After setting multiple FBS records on the championship stage, Burrow has turned his focus to the NFL Draft, with the Cincinnati Bengals ready to pounce with the first overall pick. They could get a huge bounty of assets by moving out of No. 1, but the opportunity to draft a future franchise guy is one the Bengals won’t pass up. Burrow is the type of player that you want leading your club – tough, confident, competitive with a burning desire to win. There are some naysayers who have doubts about Burrow’s ceiling at the next level, wondering if his senior season was an anomaly rather than a sign of things to come. Burrow will have every chance to prove them wrong and by this time next week, most of us assume Cincinnati will have their long-term answer at quarterback.
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