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Every text with an assistant coach, every phone call, every conversation with a team about LSU quarterback Joe Burrow ends the same way. Burrow isn’t just good. He’s potentially a transformational player.
The last time I heard so many scouts and team officials speak so glowingly of a player was when Andrew Luck entered the draft in 2012. Teams were falling all over themselves to construct trade offers to the Colts for the rights to that No. 1 pick. In one proposed deal, then-Browns team president Mike Holmgren offered Indianapolis his entire draft for the rights to Luck.
Could that happen for Burrow? No, no team is that stupid this time.
But that doesn’t mean the NFL isn’t enamored with Burrow, and that is because many see the 6’4″ 23-year-old Heisman winner as the kind of talent that can turn a team into a contender…quickly.
Some of the accolades being spoken about Burrow border on the absurd. “If I had a son,” one AFC West team official said, “I’d love for him to be like Joe.”
See what I mean?
In addition to his quarterback skills, teams love his maturity off the field. Those who have spoken to LSU coaches and others close to the program say that’s one of Burrow’s best attributes.
That’s why the one absolute truth about this year’s draft is that Burrow will be selected first overall by the Bengals. They want him. He tolerates them.
But like the Colts found in 2012, the Bengals will find there are teams—maybe a lot of them—that will make the decision a tough one.
A number of front-office officials say other teams will make serious efforts to leap into the first two picks, held by the Bengals and Washington, to try to get either Burrow or Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
It’s unlikely the Bengals will give in with a potential franchise quarterback on the board, unless they are offered two No. 1s and a starship. And that starship would have to be really fast. (The Bengals would probably crash it anyway.)
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That may not be the case for Washington. And several team officials with whom B/R communicated insist Tagovailoa ranks right behind Burrow. If his hip checks out OK during next week’s scouting combine, he could generate a flurry of activity from some trying to grab the No. 2 spot.
Washington, unlike the Bengals, would be much more open-minded about a trade. It was only last year when it drafted Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins with the 15th overall pick. In limited duty last season, Haskins showed flashes of ability, and the team likes him.
Overall, it appears the league is expecting a gold rush to move into those top two spots, and some teams may be willing to give up a bounty to get there.
Is someone like Burrow really worth it, though?
Teams tell me the reason for Burrow-mania can be directly traced to Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson.
That isn’t to say Burrow will be as good as them. But the success of Jackson, last year’s MVP, and Mahomes, the Super Bowl MVP, is causing teams to look for their version of those two players.
Burrow has solid mobility, excellent athleticism and is an accurate passer. While teams still love pocket passers, as defenses continue to get faster and more athletic—and defensive schemes more complicated—a quarterback’s mobility becomes a factor.
Burrow isn’t Jackson—no one is—but if he can be a reasonable facsimile, that would still be deadly.
Overshadowing the pick, however, is Burrow’s fit, or willingness to fit, with Cincinnati.
The team generally doesn’t draft well, it stubbornly refuses to dip heavily into free agency, and many of its personnel decisions have been ill-advised. Cincinnati simply isn’t a well-run franchise and hasn’t been for years.
But before fans take to Twitter to oh-so-politely disagree, know that just because the Bengals are a dumpster fire now, it doesn’t mean they will be forever. And that makes for a different challenge facing Burrow. It’s not just a question of if he can turn the Bengals around, but also about how much help he will receive from the team in trying to do so.
A good comparison is the Colts in the late 1990s. When Peyton Manning was picked first overall in 1998, the Colts were a mess (and 3-13 the season before), but they had Hall of Famer Bill Polian running the team. Polian has had some questionable takes lately, but he was excellent at building franchises. He put tons of talent around Manning (and, previously, Jim Kelly in Buffalo) so that while Manning was excellent, the entire franchise was excellent, too.
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Fast-forward to Luck. Polian was gone and the Colts’ new front office was terrible at both protecting him (by failing to invest in offensive linemen) and surrounding him with an abundance of good players (on both sides of the ball). As a result, Luck retired while still in his prime.
The hope here is that history doesn’t repeat itself with Burrow, but the Bengals’ recent track record of team-building doesn’t inspire confidence.
Truth be told, Burrow has few options to do anything about it, unless some team offers the moon (and Mars) for the pick.
But if Burrow is as good as the league anticipates, whomever he goes home with on draft night shouldn’t have any second thoughts.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.