Joe Burrow, the top selection in the 2020 draft of the Cincinnati Bengals, may be the savior for a team that has not won a playoff game since 1991 and has yet to win a Super Bowl, but that is years away. As the Bengals themselves and other teams have learned, snaring a top, talented quarterback with the first pick in the draft cannot make up for years of ineptitude. If Burrow succeeds too much as a rookie, he might be helping the Bengals waste their $36 million investment in him.
The Bengals need a more defensive-minded coach
In their 52 years in the NFL, the Bengals have had only 10 head coaches starting with Paul Brown in 1968. Marvin Lewis remains the longest-tenured Bengals coach, serving 16 years as the main man on the sidelines. Over Lewis’ time at the helm, though, the team began to falter after a successful 2015 season. A group once known for its stalwart defense slipped to 30th overall in Lewis’ last season, 2018.
The Bengals are in the AFC North, one of the NFL’s toughest divisions with the Steelers and Ravens are known for their strong defenses. According to Lineups.com, the Bengals have one of the worst defenses in the NFL in 2020, with division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh ranked 1-2. The Bengals are incredibly weak against the run, ranking 31st in the NFL.
Zac Taylor, the current Bengals coach, is an offensive-oriented leader while Lou Anarumo heads the defense. Keep in mind that Anarumo’s previous defensive jobs were with Miami and the New York Giants—not exactly teams known for their sparkling defensive play.
The Bengals need upgrades everywhere to help Joe Burrow
If Joe Burrow successfully leads the Bengals to a more competitive record in the AFC North, he will need a lot of help. According to Lineups, wide receiver AJ Green (No. 15) and running back Joe Mixon (No. 16) are in the top 20 at their positions on the offensive side of the ball. Tight ends, and other wideouts grade out quite poorly. Green has been playing with an injured hamstring, giving Burrow even less to work within the passing game.
The offensive line is a disaster with no player in the top 20 at his position. The O-line, an area the Bengals have neglected in the past three NFL drafts, must be a point of focus moving forward to keep Burrow from taking a beating.
On the defensive side of the ball, things are even worse. Only two players left, defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins, are in the top 20 at their positions. The team’s major weakness comes at linebacker, where John Bynes, rated the NFL’s 71st best linebacker, is the best the Bengals have.
Will Joe Burrow’s talent kill Cincinnati’s draft chances?
Even though the Bengals only have one win and one tie in their first six week of play in the 2020 season, the team has only been blown out once, that being a 27-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. With possible wins against the Washington Football Team, Houston Texans, and the New York Giants in their remaining schedule, Cincinnati may wind up being out of the running for a top five draft pick in 2021, which would leave them free agency as the only route to major improvement.
The team desperately needs help on the offensive line, and the 2021 NFL draft is thin on OL prospects save for Penei Sewell, a run-blocking tackle from Oregon, and Alex Leatherwood, a tackle from Alabama who is far from a finished product. Neither Sewell nor Leatherwood are likely to be left on the board if the Bengals finish with four or more wins. The way Joe Burrow is playing as a rookie (65% completion rate, six passing TDs through six games), four wins against some listless competition isn’t out of the question
Does Burrow have the Heisman curse or blessing?
Joe Burrow is one of eight Heisman Trophy-award winning quarterbacks in the NFL, with two (Robert Griffin III and Lamar Jackson) on the same team. Of the eight, half are with different teams than those who drafted them, and only one — Cam Newton — has appeared in a Super Bowl.
Of the league’s top 10 rated quarterbacks after five weeks of play, the only Heisman winners on the list are Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson. Burrow comes in at No. 14, middle of the road in most stats except for a low interception percentage (1.6%).
Only time will tell whether Joe Burrow follows in the footsteps of Heisman QB greats such as Cam Newton and Carson Palmer, or duds like Tim Tebow and Gino Torretta.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.