When NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah wants to differentiate between top quarterback prospects Joe Burrow of LSU and Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama, he simply goes to the tape. And not just any tape, mind you.
“It’s tricky to evaluate Joe Burrow and Tua because of the amount of talent they have around them,” said Jeremiah, a former NFL scout who now is the network’s lead draft analyst. “I watched all their snaps under pressure, and when you do that, there is a decided difference between Joe Burrow and everyone else in the draft. Tua was good, but not like Joe. You can find out [a lot] when they’ve got pressure.”
In other words, it was no contest.
Which is why Burrow is and has been the presumptive No. 1 overall choice in this year’s draft. Unlike other years, when quarterbacks can slide up and down draft boards after scrutiny of their every move, Burrow has been at the top of this class from the start.
As it should be, because he just might be the best and cleanest quarterback prospect since the Colts made Andrew Luck the first overall pick in 2012.
There is everything to like about Burrow, who comes off the greatest single-season performance in college football history. Burrow led LSU to the national championship with a whopping 60 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. In LSU’s 42-25 rout of Clemson in the title game, Burrow threw for 463 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions, easily outplaying the quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, who might very well be next year’s first overall pick.
“Burrow reminds you of Peyton Manning,” Hall of Fame personnel director Gil Brandt wrote in his latest evaluation of the LSU star. “Burrow is faster than Manning, but his arm strength is equal — it’s good, but not great.”
Another Manning? No wonder the Bengals, who have the first overall pick, may have found their answer at quarterback. If anyone can lift Cincinnati out of decades of mostly failure, it’s Burrow, who has the talent and leadership skills to take on this herculean task.
“I think I’m very prepared to be that guy when it’s asked of me,” the Heisman Trophy winner said of becoming a franchise quarterback. “I’ve had a lot of different experiences that I think have helped shape my mentality when it comes to that.”
Even when he wasn’t playing, Burrow was learning about what it takes to be a champion. He started off at Ohio State, where he spent three seasons — his first as a redshirt freshman — and studied under coach Urban Meyer, one of the greatest offensive minds in college football history. Burrow was a backup for two seasons before transferring to LSU, where he blossomed into a star in 2019.
Oh, he was good the year before, throwing for 16 touchdowns and five interceptions and completing 57.8% of his passes. But he was nearly perfect last season, especially when it came to his accuracy. Burrow completed 76.3% of his passes and drew praise from Jeremiah and others by completing 66.4% while under pressure.
“He was phenomenal when he was under pressure,” Jeremiah said, “and he was phenomenal when they were playing against teams with similar talent.”
That improvement from one year to the next was no accident.
“I knew the work that I had put in,” Burrow said. “The thing that I really envisioned is the on-field success. The Heisman Trophy, all those awards are great, but I wanted to be a starting quarterback. I wanted to be the best player I could be, and I worked really, really hard for it. I had a lot of people who have helped and worked really hard for me.”
Burrow’s confidence grew from his preparation, and he credits being an understudy to Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett with helping to develop the swagger we all saw throughout his championship season.
“He prepared better than anybody I’ve ever been around, and he was super-confident as a result of it,” Burrow said. “I think confidence starts with preparation, and I’m really confident in my preparation. I feel I prepare better than anybody else. That’s why I’m so confident, because I feel I know what’s going to be happening before it happens.”
Burrow soon will learn where he’ll be playing next — almost certainly Cincinnati, just a couple of hours’ drive from his home in The Plains, Ohio.
A savior for Cincinnati? The Bengals can only hope.