Former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is changing his tiger stripes after the Cincinnati Bengals made him the top overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday.
Burrow, who spent the 2015-2017 seasons at Ohio State as a backup, is coming off a national championship season with LSU, throwing for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns with just six interceptions and earning honors as the Heisman Trophy winner.
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Bengals fans long ago embraced the Athens (Ohio) High School graduate as the likely top pick, but here are five things to know about the team’s new quarterback:
1. Football in the blood
Burrow comes from a family of football players and coaches. His dad, Jim, began his own college playing career at Ole Miss and finished at Nebraska before the Green Bay Packers selected him in the eighth round of the 1976 NFL Draft. Jim Burrow played just three games for the Packers, according to ProFootballReference.com but he went on to play five seasons in the Canadian Football League, including appearances in three Grey Cup finals and a championship with the Montreal Alouettes.
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Upon retiring from playing, Jim Burrow began a coaching career in 1981 with Washington State and made stops at Iowa State, Ames (Iowa) High School, Nebraska, North Dakota State and finally Ohio University, where he served as defensive coordinator from 2005 until 2019 when he retired to follow Joe Burrow’s senior season at LSU.
Joe Burrow’s two older brothers, Jamie and Dan, both played college football at Nebraska, and his uncle Johnny played at Ole Miss.
2. Bandwagon NFL fan
Despite spending about a decade of his life two and a half hours from Cincinnati, Burrow never considered himself a Bengals fan but he said at the NFL Combine in February that it would be special to play so close to home if the Bengals drafted him as most were speculating. His parents, Jim and Robin, still live in the Athens area and that is where he settled in for the draft.
Burrow grew up a “bandwagon NFL fan” of sorts while moving from place to place to follow his father’s coaching career. For a while Burrow was a Vikings fan while living in North Dakota. When he moved to Athens in 2005, he was a Saints fan because Reggie Bush had just been drafted and he was a huge Drew Brees fan as well. At one point, he latched onto the Browns for a while. His two best friends from high school are Bengals fans, however, and his girlfriend is a native of Mason.
3. Athens legend
Burrow’s hometown community already loved him well before he won a Heisman Trophy and national championship, but the feeling is mutual. During his nationally-televised Heisman speech in December, he encouraged people to donate to the Athens County Food Pantry, ultimately raising more than $500,000.
“Coming from southeast Ohio it’s a very impoverished area and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average,” Burrow said in the speech. “There’s so many people there that don’t have a lot and I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys can be up here, too."
In high school, Burrow led Athens High to three straight playoff appearances, including passing for 446 yards and six touchdowns in a 56-52 loss to Toledo Central Catholic in the 2014 Division III state final. He threw for 11,416 yards and 157 touchdowns during his career and was awarded the state’s Mr. Football Award and Gatorade Player of the Year award as a senior after the Bulldogs finished 14-1.
4. “Tiny” hands
Much was made at the NFL Combine about Burrow’s nine-inch hand measurement, which is considered on the small end for a quarterback. However, Bengals coach Zac Taylor and Tobin both indicated hand size was not a concern.
Taylor also has nine-inch hands and coached a quarterback with the same measurements in Jared Goff with the L.A. Rams in 2018.
“It has not been an issue with any quarterback I’ve coached,” Taylor said at the NFL Combine. “It’s a fun thing for everybody to talk about. I get it. But I’ve been around a lot of great quarterbacks that have had what people say are small hands and it has not affected them in the slightest.”
Burrow’s draft profile on NFL.com lists him at 6-foot-3, 221 pounds and with 30 7/8-inch arms. He did not work out at the NFL Combine and his Pro Day at LSU was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
5. One great college season
Burrow’s senior season at LSU has been considered one of the greatest ever for a college quarterback, as his 202 passing efficiency rating for 2019 was an NCAA record, according to Sports-Reference.com. He passed for 76.3 percent.
Some questioned whether one great college season is enough to know he can translate that success at the NFL level, but Tobin noted last week that it was a good sign to see Burrow got better and better as he went.
Burrow said at the NFL Combine his biggest strength is his pocket presence. Taylor said that’s not always something you can teach a player.
“That is one of the great traits about him is he is able to extend plays and he has good feel for the rush and can get out on the perimeter and those guys did a good job playing with him in that regard,” Taylor said at the Combine. “They threw a lot of touchdown passes that way (at LSU). That's one of the things you are looking at in a quarterback: Can he create and extend plays? You don't always call the perfect call. The protection isn't always the best, so sometimes those guys have to be able to get on the perimeter and extend plays and make the play when you wouldn't think there is one to be made. That's something he's really shown on tape.”
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