NFL

Joe Burrow Makes Bengals Playoff Contenders in 2020

Joe Burrow hasn’t officially heard his name called yet, but there’s no doubt he will be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. After all, he just put together arguably the single greatest season by any player in college football history. And with the Cincinnati Bengals on the clock, it would take a blunder of epic proportions for Mike Brown to screw up the No. 1 pick.

Before the NFL free agency period got underway, some speculated whether Burrow even wanted to go to Cincinnati. The Bengals have earned a reputation for being one of the NFL’s cheapest franchises. For years, their owner has refused to invest in the scouting department and routinely eschews free agency. But after signing several key free agents early, and with Burrow poised to take over the keys to the franchise, the Bengals may just shock the NFL in 2020.

Joe Burrow had the greatest season in college football history

Joe Burrow may have been a one-year wonder, but that one year was truly special. After transferring from Ohio State, he put up respectable but unimpressive stats in 2018. The former high-profile recruit threw for 2,894 yards and 16 touchdowns in 13 games for a 10-3 LSU squad. Then Joe Brady arrived.

Unleashed in a new spread attack, Burrow had a season for the ages. Throwing to the talented wide receiver tandem of Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase, Burrow set single-season records with 5,671 yards, 60 passing touchdowns and a 76.3 completion percentage. He particularly played well in the most high-pressure situations.

The Heisman Trophy winner threw three touchdowns in a win over Florida. He went 31-of-39 for 393 yards and three touchdowns in a thrilling win over Alabama. Burrow took his game to another level in the College Football Playoff, combining for 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions in decisive victories against Oklahoma and Clemson. From both an individual and team perspective, Burrow and the Tigers had a truly historic season.

Bengals have surprisingly spent significant money in free agency

With Burrow solidifying his status as QB1, the Bengals needed to prove their commitment to building a legitimate contender. Perhaps second-year head coach Zac Taylor has more latitude in personnel decisions. Or perhaps owner Mike Brown finally decided to stop going bargain shopping. Either way, the Bengals have shown a surprising willingness to spend money in free agency this offseason.

First, the Bengals used the franchise tag on A.J. Green. The veteran receiver has struggled with injuries in recent years, but when healthy, he’s a top-10 player at his position. Bringing him back should be a positive sign for Burrow’s future. Without Green, the Bengals don’t have a ton of firepower at the receiver position outside of Tyler Boyd.

More importantly, Cincinnati loaded up on defense with four potential starters. D.J. Reader should slot in nicely next to pass-rushing stud Geno Atkins. Vonn Bell and Trae Waynes fill two major holes in the secondary. Mackensie Alexander should be the team’s nickel corner and will be motivated to play well on a one-year deal.

Burrow should make Bengals playoff contender

The Bengals have already brought in reinforcements on defense. And with 2019 first-rounder Jonah Williams back after missing his rookie season, the offensive line will also get a big boost. But at the end of the day, Burrow is the key to the Bengals’ 2020 turnaround.

The cerebral signal-caller showed incredible command, poise and accuracy in his record-setting season. In Cincinnati, he will have a solid array of weapons beyond Green and Boyd. Running back Joe Mixon possesses the complete skill set to contribute on all three downs, and he should be in line for a career year with Burrow at QB. Giovani Bernard can still provide a solid pass-catching presence out of the backfield.

With the Browns breaking in a new head coach and the Steelers betting on Ben Roethlisberger’s surgically-repaired elbow, the AFC North may be more wide open than you think. The Ravens certainly enter the season as the favorites, but don’t be surprised to see Burrow bring the Bengals back into contention in 2020.