The reigning Heisman trophy winner, a national champion and the first name off most people’s tongues when it comes to ‘the next big thing out of college’.
Joe Burrow’s coming off one of the greatest individual seasons in recent history and it is likely he will be drafted first amongst the quarterbacks.
Burrow set two NCAA records during his 2019 season, including highest passer rating with 202.0 and most touchdown passes with 60. As well as that he led the way in completion percentage with 76.3 and total passing yards with 5,671. The season finished with the QB leading the undefeated LSU Tigers to the top seed in the country and ultimately, the 2020 Championship Game where they were victorious 42-25 over the Clemson Tigers.
Highest graded seasons by a college QB
1. Joe Burrow, 2019 – 95.0
T2. Kyler Murray, 2018 – 94.6
T2. Baker Mayfield, 2017 – 94.6 pic.twitter.com/bO20z0k7xk
— PFF (@PFF) April 18, 2020
Burrow started out with Ohio State as a redshirt freshman in 2015, worked his way up onto the depth chart before losing the starting job to Dwayne Haskins (who is now with the Washington Redskins). Burrow then transferred to LSU in 2018, a move that paid off. Five total years at college level will give him plenty of ‘source material’ to work off.
The Ohio native encompasses everything you want from a pass-first quarterback. He has great precision, delivery, judgement, and a high IQ. While his arm-strength has been heavily questioned, he understands his limitations and still makes smart throws (a given when you look at his completion percentage last season). It is also an area he has improved in, completing deep throws at 74.4 per cent in 2019, up from 60.7 per cent in 2018.
Aside from his obvious skill-set, Burrow is renowned for his intangibles. Teammates gravitate towards his swagger, confidence and leadership, and if it means anything, his background of a ‘started from the bottom now we’re here’ football story is certainly attractive.
The criticisms are hard to come by, but they are there. There is a legitimate argument Burrow is a system quarterback who simply benefitted off LSU’s offence, which ramped up after years of mediocrity. There is a stark difference between Burrow’s numbers in 2018 compared to 2019, with well over double the amount of passing yards and touchdown passes, and a 69.8 difference in passer rating.
While certainly mobile, Burrow does not possess the athleticism other round one-calibre quarterbacks do, which could prove crucial as to where he is taken. In today’s game, dual-threat QB’s are a desired asset more so than a more traditional passer.
The name has circled football-loving mouths for some time now, and it appears the hype will finally eventuate into an NFL quarterback. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa has been touted as the next big talent out of college football since he took the reins of the Crimson Tide in 2018 (some even penciled him in for stardom after eight appearances off the bench in 2017). A lot points towards him being a bigger prospect with a higher ceiling than Joe Burrow.
After a special sophomore year, where he finished with a 43-6 touchdown/interception ratio, a passer rating of 199.4 and second in the Heisman trophy race, 2019 was looking to be an even better one from the Hawaiian. In nine appearances he completed 71.4 per cent of his passes, making 2,840 yards with 33 touchdown passes and three interceptions, leading to a passer rating of 206.9. Unfortunately injuries struck and Tagovailoa never played another college game.
Despite his championship short comings the last two years where the Tide have failed to meet expectations, Tagovailoa has plenty of high-level games under his belt as well as a strong winning background with a 21-2 record as a starter.
The numbers do the talent justice. Tagovailoa has a precise arm for throws of all distances, all with a quick release. Some are going as far as to compare him to Aaron Rodgers and Dan Marino, two of the most talented and purest passers the NFL has ever seen. As well as that, Tagovailoa controls the pocket with calmness with the ability to improvise when needed, thanks to an agile body. Such a multi-dimensional skillset mirrors what the likes of Russell Wilson and DeShaun Watson do in the NFL right now.
But with an extreme positive on one end, there is an extreme negative on the other. The word health comes up a lot when dissecting Tagovailoa’s college career.
His 2019 season was hampered with injuries, first suffering an ankle sprain that required surgery in one game, before dislocating his hip which fractured his posterior wall, a broken nose and concussion in another game, ending his season prematurely.
Tagovailoa unfortunately was not medically cleared to compete at this year’s combine, meaning teams will be in limbo around his health on draft day aside from doctors’ reports, which could result in a slide out of the top 10.
Justin Herbert is not getting the attention his predecessors are, nowhere near it, and the reasoning behind that is understandable. He simply does not have the class that Burrow and Tagovailoa have shown at a high level.
But that does not mean he is not of quality, far from it.
“Crumbles under pressure”
“Lacks playmaking ability”
“Not a winner”
INTRODUCING: The Justin Herbert the critics didn’t know about! pic.twitter.com/lpPvXBsmQz
— Cam (@camaggs10) April 18, 2020
Spending the last four years at Oregon, a quality program in a tough conference, Herbert put up some of the more consistent numbers amongst division one starters over the last four years, throwing no less than 15 touchdown passes (that was through eight games in 2017) and no more than five interceptions (in 2017 and 2019). His most recent season saw him lead the Ducks to a Rose Bowl championship and a 12-2 record.
Herbert threw for 3,471 yards with a 66.8 completion percentage. He managed 32 touchdown passes with just five interceptions, leading to an overall passer rating of 153.7. The numbers, while less flashy, signal a competent thrower who makes good decisions.
What the eye test tells you is the athleticism, size and strength Herbert possesses. He already has an NFL build standing at 6 feet 6 inches and weighing 236 pounds, and comes with exceptional mobility that likens him to Carson Wentz. Looking back to the Rose Bowl where the Ducks beat Wisconsin 28-27, Herbert’s passing game was below par, so he opted for the legs and rushed for three of his side’s four touchdowns and ran for 29 yards, helping him win the game’s MVP award.
Add to that a cannon for an arm, stroking the ball beautifully with long-ranged throws. He has little trouble finding receivers and is able to adjust his throw to work around defences.
While the traits suggest one thing, the tape suggests something else. Herbert has not exactly produced the startling plays expected for someone of his supposed calibre and impressive stature.
As well as that his passing numbers dipped somewhat towards the end of the 2019 season. Through his first 11 games Herbert averaged a passer rating of 167.85, in his final three – one of which was the Pac-12 Championship game and another was the Rose Bowl – he managed 122.2. That could spell worry when considering his impact in late-season games.
Draft day predictions
Round 1, pick 1 – Cincinnati Bengals select Joe Burrow
No surprises here, no absurd anecdotes of questionable calls, nothing needed. Despite my own estimation Tua Tagovailoa is the best quarterback prospect in this year’s draft – and one of the three best over the last four years – the Bengals will play it safe and go with the man with the highest stock right now in Joe Burrow.
Round 1, pick 3 – Miami Dolphins trade up, select Tua Tagovailoa
The New England Patriots could very well be the team to trade up here and make a deal with the Detroit Lions, who currently have the third pick. The Lions also have a couple of former Pats employees working for them, which bodes well for a potential New England swoop. Though let us keep the ‘trade hot takes’ to a minimum, and go with a team who desperately needs a quarterback to build around. Cue the Dolphins and Tua Tagovailoa.
Round 1, pick 6 – Los Angeles Chargers select Justin Herbert
For some Justin Hebert is far from a lock in the first round, for others he simply has a little more growing needed. Regardless the Chargers would be silly to pass up the opportunity at drafting an immediate successor to Philip Rivers – someone with incredible physical talents, who will have plenty of offensive weapons around him.
Sports writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. I have a strong passion for a range of codes, including the NBA, NFL, Soccer, Rugby and more.