How the Bengals can avoid ruining LSU's Joe Burrow after landing him in the 2020 NFL DraftSporting News — (Vinnie Iyer)
Joe Burrow just finished his Heisman Trophy-winning senior season at LSU with a national championship. In putting up the greatest individual season by a college quarterback ever, he cemented his status as the No. 1 overall pick in 2020 NFL Draft.
That means Burrow, 23, is trading the Bayou Bengals for the Cincinnati Bengals, who hold the top pick and a need a new franchise quarterback. Let's hope he enjoyed that victory cigar after beating Clemson, because he is literally stepping into the next-level challenge of trying to get his new team to a Super Bowl.
NFL MOCK DRAFT 2020:
Burrow first of three QBs taken in Round 1
With LSU, Burrow won back-to-back College Football Playoff games. The Bengals have not won an NFL playoff game in 29 years. Burrow will be the centerpiece of Cincinnati's latest rebuild after a 2-14 season. With offensive-minded head coach Zac Taylor entering his second year, that's a good start for Burrow to get favorable pro coaching after working so well with the braintrust of Ed Orgeron, Joe Brady and Steve Ensminger.
To keep Burrow on the right track, here is the Bengals' must-do immediate groundwork with the soon-to-be rookie quarterback.
1. Move Andy Dalton and sign a willing veteran backup QB
First things first, the Bengals need to commit to starting Burrow right away so he doesn't have to worry about a pseudo training camp competition. Dalton has given the Bengals his best, but the 32-year-old is not built to be a mentoring backup.
There are plenty of NFL teams with QB concerns and/or pending free agents at the position for Dalton to find a new home, either as a starter for a team that gives him strong support or as a bridge option. Dalton is the past, and Burrow is the future — the Bengals shouldn't try to blend that and create mixed messages.
At the same time, Taylor can't go with 2019 fourth-rounder Ryan Finley as Burrow's backup. Cincinnati needs to find an experienced No. 2 who can serve as an extra offensive coach.
The Chiefs' Matt Moore, who worked with Taylor in Miami, is a free agent. On the lowest level of the open market, there's also the Vikings' Sean Mannion, who worked under Taylor and Sean McVay behind Jared Goff in Los Angeles.
2. Extend Joe Mixon and get him more involved in the passing game
Mixon was the lifeblood of the Bengals' offense in 2019. Taylor was slow to give his dynamic feature back big workloads early in the season, but Mixon averaged 24 touches per game in the second half, ending up with 313 touches for 1,424 yards when the passing game was hit-or-miss with Finley and Dalton.
Mixon was effective as a receiver, consistently explosive with his 35 catches on 45 targets. There was room to use Mixon even more in that capacity. Meanwhile, Burrow at LSU was boosted by Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who caught 55 passes for the Tigers.
Burrow is a few months older than Mixon, who will be 24 entering the 2020 season and the final year of his rookie contract. He is a vital piece to what the Bengals need to do offensively going forward. It makes a lot of sense for them to take care of his long-term contract so he can be in lockstep with Burrow in the critical early years.
3. Try to keep A.J. Green, but also get Burrow a rookie go-to guy outside
Green ideally would stay with the Bengals to finish his career and keep working on the franchise's career receiving marks. But he is entering his age-32 season and didn't play at all in 2019 with his ankle injury.
Those things can add up to a team friendly-deal that would keep his venerable presence in the receiving corps.
The Bengals' most productive receiver over the past two seasons has been Tyler Boyd, who at 26 is already signed through 2023. A strong route runner with good hands, though, Boyd would be more effective as a slot security blanket for Burrow. Whether or not Green stays, given his age, it wouldn't be smart for the Bengals to settle for 2017 speedy first-rounder John Ross and 2018 big seventh-rounder Auden Tate.
The 2020 wide receiver draft class is deep enough that the Bengals can get a well-rounded prospect with starting potential in the second or third round.
4. Keep addressing pass protection and get Jonah Williams healthy
The Bengals didn't get to see what Williams, their 2019 first-round pick (No. 11 overall from Alabama), could do at left tackle after he suffered a torn labrum in the offseason. He should be fully recovered from the shoulder injury to play in 2020, and at 6-4, 305 pounds, he has the potential to be the rock for Burrow the way Andrew Whitworth was for Dalton.
Cincinnati decided to re-sign shaky right tackle Bobby Hart to a three-year, $21 million extension last March, so it can be assumed Williams and Hart will be Burrow's initial edge blockers. But the Bengals should be more interested in upgrading the interior given 2018 first-round center Billy Price looks like an all-out bust.
Burrow, who is tough and elusive, has good footwork and pocket presence to sidestep pressure, but he also benefited from sturdy LSU line play. Note that Cincinnati was in the bottom 10 in sacks allowed (48) but was No. 22 in QB hits allowed (83) in 2019.
5. Think about re-signing Tyler Eifert — or get a big-time tight end in free agency
Many thought Eifert, after being re-signed to a one-year deal for the beginning of the Taylor era, would return to a sizable role in the passing game. That was somewhat the case, as he stayed healthy all season to catch 43 of 65 targets for 436 yards and 3 TDs for a team that averaged fewer than 18 points per game.
However, Eifert is entering his age-30 season as a pending free agent. Some elite young receiving tight ends also are set to become free agents in 25-year-olds Austin Hooper and Hunter Henry. Given Burrow's connection with Thaddeus Moss (Randy's son) at LSU, it would make sense for Cincinnati to keep what it has at the position. But it would make even more sense for the Bengals to get younger and better at tight end to help Burrow as a rookie.
Burrow was awesome to close his LSU career, but he had a lot of help from coaching, scheming, blocking and supporting skill players to make him an elite QB prospect.
Now the Bengals need to make the 2020 season all about accelerating his pro development and potential.