Originally appeared in CrescentCitySports.com, 4/25/2020
LSU had a program-record five players selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, just one short of the single-draft record held by the 2006 Miami Hurricanes.
Joe Burrow, as expected, was taken first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Tigers did contribute to the Southeastern Conference’s breaking of its own record with 15 players taken in the first round. Three times before, a conference had a dozen student-athletes hear their names called in the opening round.
Typically, reactions to the draft are centered on the team’s perspective. What kind of player are they getting? Did they get value for their pick?
Since the draft doesn’t look the same this season due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, it seems like a good time to take a different look.
What situations are the players walking into? Does the team they’re going to be playing for next season, whenever it begins, put them in position to be successful for the short or long-term? This is the first in that five-part series on the quintet of top-round Tigers. How will they fare in their new homes?
First Overall: Joe Burrow, Quarterback
The idea that Joe Burrow will have to compete for the starting job is laughable. He wasn’t selected to learn head coach Zac Taylor’s system for a year or two. Burrow is the Bengals’ quarterback of the present and the future.
The reality is Cincinnati is very bad. The Bengals earned the worst record in the league, going 2-14 (2-6 home, 0-8 road). Their two wins came against the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns. Ranked 30th in scoring offense and 25th in scoring defense, Cincy did not do much well last season.
Burrow joins a team that failed in every way to move the ball, ranking 29th in yards per play. The Bengals offensive line rated 30th in the NFL according to data collected by Pro Football Focus, just edging out the Los Angeles Rams and Miami Dolphins.
Not a single Cincinnati lineman finished the season ranked in the top half of players at their position, and just three started at least 10 games in 2019 – Bobby Hart, John Miller and Trey Hopkins.
Miller (13 starts at guard) was jettisoned in the offseason. In his place, the team brought in Xavier Su’a-Filo, a former second round pick of the Houston Texans, on a three-year deal. Whether or not the latter is an upgrade remains to be seen. Health is a major concern for Su’a-Filo. After making 31 starts for Houston during the 2017 and 2018 season, he only started 12 games for the Dallas Cowboys the last two seasons.
The Bengals will address their porous line further through the draft or free agency, but the reality is that Joe Burrow had better keep his head on a swivel in year one of his career.
Should Burrow remain upright, he does have a number of offensive weapons. Cincinnati has the chance to be very explosive if its talented skill players can remain healthy and live up to their tremendous potential.
Joe Mixon is a solid lead back. Though his numbers were down from his sophomore campaign, Mixon was able to rush for more than 1100 yards for the second straight season and managed to top four yards per carry. He’s still only 23 years old, so his best should be ahead of him.
Mixon was also a decent receiving option, catching 35 passes and scoring three touchdowns.
His backup, Giovanni Bernard, has been in decline the past few seasons, but can be a dynamic third down option.
The Bengals’ collection of recievers could be scary.
AJ Green was given the franchise tag by Cincinnati even though he missed the entire 2019 season with injury. It could be because Green has been Cincinnati’s best offensive weapon since arriving from Georgia in 2011. He made the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven seasons, averaging 79 receptions, 1173 yards, and eight touchdowns over those years.
Even after missing 29 career games, Green ranks fifth among active players with 63 touchdown catches.
Tyler Boyd is coming off the best season of his young career, with personal bests of 90 receptions and 1046 recieving yards along with five TDs. Boyd is the all-time receptions leader at the University of Pittsburgh, the same school that produced Larry Johnson. He accomplished that feat in three seasons.
Boyd’s 4.5 speed seems almost slow next to John Ross III. Ross holds the unofficial combine record of 4.22 seconds in the 40 yard dash. In 2019 he averaged more than 18 yards per catch and set career highs in receptions (28) and yards (506). More than 20 percent of his 49 career receptions has gone for a score (10).
Auden Tate and Alex Erickson were solid complimentary recievers, combining for 83 catches and 1104 yards.
Tight end Tyler Eifert was often mentioned as a potential target of the Saints last season. Eifert was a Pro Bowler in 2015 after catching a career-high 52 balls and scoring 13 TDs. In the last four seasons, Eifert has been unable to stay on the field, making only eight starts and scoring a total of eight times.
With Eifert on the sidelines, CJ Uzomah has been the Bengals’ primary tight end. He has 70 catches for more than 700 yards over the last two seasons.
Cincinnati continued to give Burrow options on day two of the draft, selecting Clemson wideout Tee Higgins with the first pick of the second round.
Higgins was an All-ACC performer last season for the Tigers, with 59 receptions, 1167 yards, and 13 touchdowns. At 6-3, he’s a big target for Burrow, a solid route runner who also possesses good hands and breakway speed.
Joe Burrow’s rookie year could be very rough. His head coach is one of the youngest in the NFL, and his franchise hasn’t been to the Super Bowl in 30 years. The Bengals have been far more known for what they haven’t accomplished, rather than what they have.
If Burrow can survive, Cincinnati may be on its way to building the type of program needed to make the Heisman winner as successful as he can be as a pro.
The Bengals have a ton of potential, but so do most bad teams. Can they put it together? With what will be a very limited offseason, the learning curve will be steeper, even for someone who works as hard as Burrow does.
If he gets time to learn, and most importantly time to throw, Burrow could be very productive as a rookie. If the Bengals don’t find him an offensive line, Burrow has the ability to extend plays with his legs. But, he had better learn to slide. He may get more opportunities to show his toughness than he’d like.
It’s Cincinnati. You have to be skeptical until proven otherwise. Good luck, Joe.