The Cincinnati Bengals aren’t endorsing any one player they hope the team will select with the top overall pick in the NFL Draft this year, but several players said they look forward to watching LSU quarterback Joe Burrow in Monday’s national championship game.
The Heisman Trophy winner from Southeast Ohio is considered the most likely candidate to go first off the board, and although Bengals players aren’t necessarily lobbying for him, they have been impressed nonetheless.
It would be hard not to. Burrow began his career at Ohio State but played just 10 games in a backup roll over two seasons before transferring to LSU in 2018. After a decent junior campaign, he’s been tearing it up this year, while completing 371-of-478 passes for 5,208 yards and 55 touchdowns with only six interceptions to become the only player in SEC history to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in a season. His 77.6 percent completion rate is on pace for an all-time NCAA record.
“He’s a Heisman winner — a very good quarterback and a very good player,” tight end C.J. Uzomah said of Burrow before the Bengals broke for the offseason. “He leads his team well. … That’s why they are where they are.”
No. 1 LSU (14-0) plays No. 3 Clemson (14-0) in the championship game Monday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The Tigers advanced with a 63-28 win over No. 4 Oklahoma in the semifinals Dec. 28.
Bengals running back Joe Mixon hadn’t watched Burrow play until that game when he threw seven touchdowns to torch the Sooners’ defense.
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“I thought he did a helluva job,” Mixon said. “At the end of the day I didn’t watch any other game about him. I seen what he did when he played against the Sooners and we were down a lot of players, but at the same time what I saw from him he’s real. I look forward to seeing him and watching him out there and whatever they plan on doing that’s what they’re going to do. I don’t have any say so in that.”
Of course, Cincinnati could go another route, including trading the top pick away to a team like Miami, which has three first-round picks.
However, the Bengals took former USC quarterback Carson Palmer, also a Heisman winner, the last time they had the No. 1 pick in 2003 and it’s a chance for coach Zac Taylor to rebuild under a quarterback he can groom from the beginning. Taylor said in his end-of-season press conference he hadn’t begun scouting players for the draft yet and wouldn’t comment on Burrow or anyone else.
Asked what traits he looks for in a quarterback, Taylor provided a description that seems to fit Burrow well.
“Leadership,” Taylor said. “A guy that leads by example. Somebody that outworks all of his teammates and elevates their level of play. There’s no question that there’s the accuracy that plays into it, and the timing and anticipation and all those things that come with it. No. 1, you want a guy that will lead by example and show others the way and raise the level of their teammates.”
Wide receiver A.J. Green, who is set to become a free agent in March, wouldn’t say how he would feel about potentially catching passes from Burrow but said he doesn’t expect any rookie to just jump right in and perform at the same level he did in college.
“I watch college football,” Green said. “He’s a college player. Everybody can say this is going to be the guy, and then you get to the NFL, there’s a whole different game you’ve got to read. You have to re-calibrate yourself and get back into things. I don’t care how good you are in college, there’s a reset button when you get to the NFL. But he’s a Heisman Trophy winner for a reason.”
Uzomah hopes the top draft pick can come in and be an integral part of the team, but he cautions against hyping up any one player too much. It might be too late for that, as fans have already been raising banners – like the one in the upper deck seats at Paul Brown Stadium the last four games – for Burrow.
“It’s like you make one mistake and, ‘Oh no,’” Uzomah said. “A good quarterback is a good quarterback. Leader of the team, making good decisions. Picking up an offense quickly. Just coming in here with some moxie. Being able to be the boys with the boys. Just being an integral cog in what we’re trying to build. If that’s the route that we go, then that’s kind of the most important part.”
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