Ever since legendary coach Paul Brown founded the Bengals as an expansion team in 1968, the franchise has been associated mostly with failure, misfortune and a legacy of losing. The Bengals have never won a Super Bowl, haven’t won a playoff game in nearly 30 years and were football’s biggest loser again in 2019.
But hope has arrived. His name is Joe Burrow.
The former LSU quarterback, who produced the greatest season in college football history while leading the Tigers to last season’s national championship and winning the Heisman Trophy, was selected first overall by the Bengals in Thursday night’s first-ever virtual draft.
“I knew I was going to have a really good season , but to jump up to No. 1 is crazy to me,” Burrow said after being drafted. “It’s a dream come true.”
That Burrow was the first player taken wasn’t a surprise; draft experts pegged him at No. 1 overall since late last season and certainly after Burrow’s transcendent performance in the national title game win over Clemson, when he threw five touchdown passes and no interceptions. The bigger uncertainty surrounded former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who last November suffered a hip injury that required surgery and saw his draft fortunes teeter as a result.
The Dolphins took a chance on the talented lefthanded quarterback, taking him fifth overall. They started last season at 0-7 under first-year coach Brian Flores, and fans implored the team to “Tank for Tua” and ensure the first overall pick. The Dolphins improved in the second half of the season — and still got Tagovailoa, who worked with former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer during the offseason and appears fully recovered.
Miami wasn’t finished on offense. They got Tagovailoa some pass protection by selecting USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson with the 18th overall pick.
The Chargers got their quarterback of the future at No. 6 by taking Oregon’s Justin Herbert, who will replace former first-round pick Philip Rivers, who now plays for the Colts.
The Packers produced a surprise by trading up with Miami to 26 overall and taking Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers, but he’ll turn 37 in December. Brett Favre also was 36 years old when the Packers drafted Rodgers, his eventual replacement, with the 24th overall pick in 2005.
Burrow couldn’t be there to hug NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who announced the pick from his basement in Westchester because the coronavirus pandemic forced the league to operate remotely. But Bengals fans nevertheless rejoiced at the prospect that one of Ohio’s own can help transform the Bengals into a Super Bowl-worthy team.
Burrow started out at Ohio State under coach Urban Meyer but transferred to LSU and played the 2018-19 seasons. He blossomed last season, leading the Tigers to a 15-0 record with a whopping 60 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. He completed 76.3% of his passes and was the runaway winner of the Heisman.
“I worked really hard to get better and we just jelled as a team this year to do exactly as we did,” he said. “I just wasn’t as good [my junior year] as I was my senior year, but I worked really, really hard to improve.”
With the second overall pick, the Redskins took Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young, who had been connected with Washington the entire offseason. Young had a combined 27 sacks in his last two seasons, including 21 in 2019. He added 21 tackles for loss and forced seven fumbles.
With the third pick, the Lions took Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah to help shore up a chronically weak secondary.
There was an impressive run on offensive tackles, with five going off the board by the 18th pick. The Giants started it off by taking Andrew Thomas of Georgia at No. 4. The Browns took Auburn’s Jedrick Wills Jr. at 10, the Jets selected Louisville’s Mekhi Becton at 11 and Tampa Bay got some blocking help for Tom Brady with Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs five picks before Miami took Jackson.
The expected wide receiver run took place as well, with Henry Ruggs III (Raiders), Jerry Jeudy (Broncos), CeeDee Lamb (Cowboys), Jalen Reagor (Eagles) and Justin Jefferson (Vikings) going in the first 21 picks.