Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 2: LSU QB Joe Burrow

Yahoo Sports


Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

2. LSU QB Joe Burrow

6-foot-3, 221 pounds 

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 7.15 — eventual All-Pro

TL;DR scouting report: Poised, tough and supremely accurate marksman with a lethal edge who should overcome a lack of great arm strength if he can better protect himself.

The skinny: A 3-star Rivals recruit, Burrow chose the Buckeyes — his dream school — over Ohio (where his father coached), Nebraska, Iowa State, Virginia Tech and other schools. He redshirted in the 2015 season. 

Burrow backed up starter J.T. Barrett as a redshirt freshman in 2016, and in 2017 he suffered a broken hand and moved to third on the depth chart behind Dwayne Haskins.

After narrowly losing a 2018 spring battle for the starting job to Haskins, Burrow opted to transfer to LSU over Cincinnati after completing his degree at OSU. He joined the Tigers in the summer of 2018 and beat out Myles Brennan for the starting job, completing 219-of-379 passes (57.8 percent) for 2,894 yards with 16 TDs and five INTs. He also ran 128 times for 399 yards and seven TDs. Burrow was named Fiesta Bowl MVP with 394 passing yards and five TD passes.

In 2019, Burrow won the Heisman Trophy with a record 60 touchdown passes, leading unbeaten LSU to an undefeated season and a national championship. He also took home a host of other hardware — Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Player of the Year, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Davey O'Brien Award, SEC Offensive Player of the Year— and was a unanimous AP All-America pick. Burrow completed 402-of-527 passes (76.3 percent) for 5,671 yards and only six interceptions in 15 starts. He also ran for 368 yards and  five TDs.

Burrow, who turns 24 years old in December, turned down the chance to play in the Senior Bowl, having completed LSU’s championship run less than a week prior. He attended the NFL scouting combine but did not perform any of the workouts.

Upside: Author of perhaps the greatest college QB season ever in 2019. Simply did not have a bad game — only Auburn was able to keep him from multiple TD passes. Excelled against a brutal schedule — faced six top-10 teams and averaged 424.5 passing yards with 19-0 TD-INT ratio with 72.1 percent completions vs. top-five teams in AP poll. Had combined 17-0 TD-INT ratio in conference title game plus two playoff games.

Accuracy was nothing short of elite last season — had only one game below 71.1 percent (national title game vs. Clemson at 63.3). Excelled at tight-window throws. Completed an astonishing 83.3 percent of his passes in between the numbers — fearless and deadly when attacking the middle of the field. 

Loves to make kill-shot throws — sees the carotid artery exposed and tries to slit it. Quickly IDs defenses’ weaknesses and attacks them. Doesn’t get too greedy but isn’t afraid to take shots when they’re there. Rare vision — LSU gave him an eyesight-and-reaction test that placed him in the top 5 percent of all their test studies.

This was one of the five or six most important throws of LSU’s season, coming against Texas on 3rd and 17, up six points on the road with just over two minutes left. Most teams play safe here. In 2018 with Burrow, LSU would have punted — no question about it. Texas brings a six-man blitz, hoping to force a hot throw. Burrow instead climbs in the pocket and delivers a throat slasher of a jump pass right on the money — creative genius and sangfroid at work here:

Perhaps the first sign of Burrow's greatness was this throw.
Perhaps the first sign of Burrow's greatness was this throw.

The end-zone view shows you just how off-balance he was:

This angle might be even more impressive.
This angle might be even more impressive.

Throws extremely well on the move — resets his mechanics, gets his body squared and delivers. Extends plays with his athleticism and will exploit coverage breakdowns after buying time. Will fake the QB draw and pull up to flick an on-target pass. Terrific outside the pocket.

Good scrambler — catches defense in man coverage with backs turned and can pick up first downs readily. Knows how to slide and often get out of harm’s way. Can surprise a defense with a read-option keeper, even though that shouldn’t be a staple in his playbook.

Looked right at home with additions of spread, tempo and RPO game to offense before last season. Will quick snap vs. napping defenses to gain an edge. Kept his eyes downfield more in 2019 and looked to throw first, scramble second.

Almost always makes the sound decision. Throws with terrific timing, rhythm and placement — lack of arm strength never really seemed to be a problem. Completed a whopping 56.4 percent of his passes 20-plus yards downfield  in 2019, and a stunning 74.4 percent of those passes were considered on target, per Sports Info Solutions.

His 2018 performance wasn’t as bad as some have made it out to be. Arrived summer of 2018 and didn’t even know all of his teammates’ names on the first day of summer camp. Didn’t hit his stride until late but was on fire the final four games of that season. Dealt with worse protection, more conservative system and lesser talent at some spots.

Lives and breathes football. Been around the game his whole life — father, Jimmy, was a quarterback drafted in Round 8 by the Green Bay Packers in 1976, started coaching in 1981 and just retired after 14 years as defensive coordinator for Frank Solich at Ohio University. Two older brothers played at Nebraska. 

Outstanding poise — wanted the ball in his hands in big moments. Extremely tough — took hits and popped right back up for more. This is a bit gratuitous, but here’s what we’re talking about vs. Auburn:

Burrow led LSU on a touchdown drive after this, picking up another first down with his legs on the way.
Burrow led LSU on a touchdown drive after this, picking up another first down with his legs on the way.

Extremely respected and liked by his teammates, even his former ones at OSU. Possesses tremendous competitive grit that the greats all have. Fiery field presence — no question about his killer instinct. Team general who isn’t afraid to call out his charges for their mistakes when needed.

Watch him rip this tire away from his former Ohio State teammate, Pete Warner — a linebacker. How many starting quarterbacks can do this?

Downside: Raw arm talent is adequate, not great. Same goes for his size, athleticism and other physical traits. Small hands (9 inches) could be a concern in cold and wet weather. Ball sometimes wobbles — throws a few Peyton Manning balls out there (and yes, we know that’s really a compliment).

Even in his brilliant 2019 season he wasn't as effective throwing outside the numbers in the intermediate and deep zones — and that’s where nine of his 11 career INTs came. Doesn’t always drive the ball and get his lower half into deep-ball throws. Could stand to speed up his process even more.

Here’s a throw Burrow likely wanted back the second it left his hand against Clemson. LSU tries to run a little rub route, but Clemson plays it pretty well, as Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s momentum is slowed, and Burrow is lucky this one wasn’t picked in a 28-25 game midway through the third quarter of the national championship:

Burrow locked onto his route here and almost threw a game-changing pick.
Burrow locked onto his route here and almost threw a game-changing pick.

Takes too many hits and sacks — 36 each of the past two seasons (plus all the hits as a runner). Needs to better learn when to burn it and fight for another day. Took frightening hit to his knee from Auburn’s Derrick Brown that looked like a sure ACL tear. Still has a tendency of stepping up into pressure at times — runs himself into trouble here and there. Clemson threw him some early pressure looks that frazzled him a bit.

Only nine throwaways last season. Had 11 combined fumbles the past two seasons. Can be a little more careless vs. lesser competition — four of six INTs came vs. Northwestern State, Utah State and Ole Miss. Will throw a little too much on front foot and aim passes.

This was a misread by Burrow, the second of two fourth-quarter interceptions against the Rebels, as he looked fooled by the Ole Miss DB dropping into coverage:

Burrow never saw the corner dropping off his man, and he made a poor throw.
Burrow never saw the corner dropping off his man, and he made a poor throw.

Played behind Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line (given to best OL in football), threw passes to two future first-round receivers, two draftable tight ends and a top-50 prospect at running back. Only 19 dropped passes on 518 (non-throwaway) pass attempts. Almost never operated from under center — only a handful of snaps last season, usually in short yardage. Will need to retrain his eyes when asked to drop from center in the NFL.

Older prospect — 27 days older than Lamar Jackson. Some suspicion over seismic leap in production. Not a one-year wonder, but only a one-year star. Pocket feel, accuracy and sense of pressure were troublesome early in 2018 while acclimating to new system and teammates and could be a forecast of his rookie NFL season.

Best-suited destination: Any team that can use a quarterback. How about the Patriots? Kidding. He’ll be the first selection of the Cincinnati Bengals and have the chance to rewrite the franchise’s often frustrating history.

Did you know: There’s probably isn’t much you don’t know about Burrow by now, but basketball runs in his blood. He was a first-team all-state pick and the conference’s Player of the Year on the hardcourt as a point guard at Athens High School, averaging 19.3 points his senior season and leading his team to a 22-3 record.

In fact, notable programs like Cincinnati, Iowa State, Maryland, North Carolina State and West Virginia recruited him. But football was his first love, and he transformed into a point guard of sorts in that sport.

Burrow’s grandmother also once scored 82 points in a high school basketball game, and his grandfather played hoops at Mississippi State, so we have a good idea where that skill came from.

They said it: “I want to see fight in a young quarterback. And Joe was all fight.” 

— Urban Meyer to Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel in November

Player comp: Tony Romo

Expected draft range: Top-1 pick.

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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