Joe Burrow Can Succeed Right Away With the Cincinnati Bengals
For the sake of drama, it would have been fun if the Cincinnati Bengals had pulled a fast one on us and gotten wild with the first overall pick. Start this puppy off with a bang.
Alas, 'twas not to be. Instead, the Bengals did the right thing and took Joe Burrow. How selfish.
Although Burrow-to-the-Bengals was always the assumed outcome and thus not exciting in itself, it's far from a bland move. In fact, it figures to make the Bengals a fun team to watch from the get go.
They're still a flawed team with holes to fill elsewhere on the roster. But Burrow's a player who can help them overcome those shortcomings.
Excelling Outside of Structure
The skill-position players on the Bengals are rock solid, especially if we assume that A.J. Green is anywhere near his usual self this year. That should help Burrow in the transition from LSU to the pros.
The question marks are more around the offensive line. Burrow -- at times -- will exacerbate those issues, but he'll also help erase plenty of their woes.
Let's start on the negative side of things: one of Burrow's few flaws is a desire to hold onto the ball and gun for a big play. According to Pro Football Focus' draft guide, Burrow averaged 2.70 seconds to throw this past season, second highest among the class' top prospects. This contributed in his getting sacked on 6.06% of his drop backs, much higher than quarterbacks like Tua Tagovailoa (3.82%), Jordan Love (4.06%), and Justin Herbert (5.31%). Quarterbacks play a heavy hand in determining their sack rate, and Burrow profiles as someone who may take more sacks than the average Joe.
That's an issue behind the Bengals' line. They will get last year's first-rounder, Jonah Williams, back from injury to fill left tackle, but it's still a mess of a line. That'll remain true even if they add another tackle on day two of the draft.
Thankfully, Burrow is someone who can also get himself out of trouble when the brown stuff hits the fan.
PFF charted Burrow as having a 13.8 AY/A while under pressure, the best for any quarterback in the country with at least 75 pressured drop backs. Nobody else was higher than 11.7. That's the kind of outlier you want to be.
In this sense, Burrow profiles similarly to Russell Wilson. He invites more pressure than you'd like, but he is magical when forced to operate outside of structure. When you're dealing with a questionable offensive line, that's a necessary trait if you're hoping for early success.
We also know that facing a higher level of competition won't faze Burrow. A whopping one-third of his games in 2019 came against teams ranked in the top seven in defensive SP+, and all he did against those teams was throw 16 touchdowns to 1 interception with a 10.9 AY/A. Burrow had a better AY/A against top-seven defenses than all but four quarterbacks had for the entire season, and one of those quarterbacks was Burrow himself. He passed every test thrown his way.
There are certainly other question marks around Burrow's profile coming out. He's coming off his age-23 season with at least 10 pass attempts in just 28 games, and older, inexperienced quarterbacks rarely pan out. Burrow's not a perfect prospect by any means. But based on what he did in 2019, it seems like he's up to the task of playing at a high level.
What This Means for 2020
The plus side for Burrow is that expectations for the Bengals couldn't be much lower. Their win total of 5.5 (-105 on the over) at FanDuel Sportsbook is lower than all teams except Washington and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Those are expectations they can exceed.
It's not just adding Burrow, Williams, and Green into the fold that should give us optimism about the Bengals' short-term outlook. They were also aggressive in free agency, adding key pieces along the defensive line and the secondary. This helps free them up to address the offensive line in the draft and help patch their lingering weaknesses.
In general, we want to look for outliers in win totals and see if we have reason to bet them toward the mean. For the Bengals, that's an easy case to make. Burrow plays a role in that, but other factors help push the needle toward expecting the over to hit.
From a fantasy perspective, gaining Burrow, Williams, and Green helps boost the efficiency of the offense, which is a plus for everybody. Unfortunately, the top name here -- Joe Mixon -- already has that increased efficiency baked into his price. In April BestBall10 drafts, Mixon is the 11th player off the board, which is a heavy toll to pay. Even with Burrow in town, Mixon may be going a bit too high.
The receivers aren't as costly as Mixon, which makes the Burrow bump more intriguing. Green is going 78th overall with Tyler Boyd 87th and John Ross 161st. Here's how numberFire's JJ Zachariason projects those three with Burrow as the assumed starter.
Based on those numbers, Ross seems like a quality value while Green is a worthy target in the seventh round.
Ross' breakout last year was short-lived, and it came with Green sidelined. However, Burrow led the nation with a 25.8 AY/A on throws 20-plus yards downfield, according to PFF, and Ross has a path to huge individual games. With the cost as low as it is, there's enough juice here to justify shares.
Green's going in a similar range as buzzy names like Damien Williams, Michael Gallup, and T.Y. Hilton. He doesn't need to be a priority at his current cost. However, we've seen what he can do when healthy, and this offense projects to be fairly pass-happy thanks to Zac Taylor's approach. Exposure to Green seems to be a worthwhile endeavor as a result.
As for Burrow himself, it's likely best to proceed with some caution. He's a rookie going to a team with a poor offensive line, and that's not generally a recipe for massive fantasy success. We shouldn't expect him to immediately light the world on fire.
Still, Burrow has playmakers around him, and he has the athleticism to rack up some rushing yardage should he choose to do so. He shapes up as a streaming option for single-quarterback leagues and a volatile QB2 in Superflex leagues.
This is far from a perfect situation for Burrow and the Bengals, so even with Burrow's dazzling college stats, it's wise to keep expectations in check. It's hard for rookies to succeed right away, and an abbreviated offseason is unlikely to do him any favors. But with the Bengals getting key pieces back and adding to the defense in free agency, now seems like a good time to buy into their team win total and potentially flock to guys like Ross and Green in fantasy.