Heisman Trophy winner expected to be top pick in NFL Draft

Top pick Burrow ready to get to ‘work’ for Bengals

Joe Burrow is well aware of how popular he already has become in Cincinnati. The former LSU quarterback hopes to give Bengals fans what they want: A winner.

The Cincinnati Bengals made Burrow the No. 1 pick overall in the NFL Draft on Thursday night, and coach Zac Taylor said he expects the Heisman Trophy winner to immediately compete for the starting job.

Burrow, a 2015 graduate of Athens High who began his college career at Ohio State, led LSU to the national championship this past season, and Cincinnati fans began embracing him as their own in November while the Bengals struggled through a 2-14 finish.

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“I’m very excited to reciprocate that to the fans and to the city,” Burrow said Thursday night in a Zoom news conference with local media. “I think it’s going to be a great relationship and I think we’re going to win a lot of football games and that’s going to make it a lot better.

“I’m gonna work as hard as I can to bring winning to Cincinnati,” Burrow added. “And I know the people around me will as well. The culture that coach (Zac) Taylor is building, I’m very excited about it.”

Back when it became apparent Cincinnati was going to end up with the first pick of the draft, the organization’s last No. 1 pick, former USC quarterback Carson Palmer (in 2003), began speaking out against ownership, saying the Bengals were not serious about winning. However, Cincinnati sent a different message in free agency.

The Bengals seemingly have taken a big shift in philosophy under Taylor, as they spent more than $145 million this offseason to begin rebuilding the roster, especially upgrading several positions on the defense. Two of Burrow’s best friends from high school are Bengals fans, and they kept him updated on what the team was doing this offseason and he said he was excited to see the direction the franchise wants to head.

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Now, Cincinnati is trying to continue that roster rebuild through the draft, retooling the offense around Burrow. Burrow called his draft moment “a dream come true,” completed by friends and community members driving by his Athens-area home honking in celebration after Roger Goodell announced the pick. Bengals owner Mike Brown sent letters to him and his parents on Wednesday, expressing his hopes for Burrow’s future in Cincinnati, and Burrow had a Bengals hat ready to put on after the selection became official.

Burrow, who has played on winning teams everywhere he’s been, said he had no reservations about joining an organization that hasn’t won a playoff game since 1991. He embraces the challenge to be a part of the turnaround, but doesn’t feel any more pressure to succeed just because he was the No. 1 overall pick.

“It doesn’t matter where you get picked,” said Burrow, who wore a Nike shirt he helped design to represent his hometown with the 740 area code printed inside an outline of the state. “I could have been 189th pick, I could be No. 1. I’m going to work the exact same and try to be the best quarterback I can be for this city.”

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Taylor said the Bengals decided for sure they were picking Burrow a few weeks ago. They did receive offers for the top pick – ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Dolphins inquired multiple times and were told in no uncertain terms the Bengals were not interested. However, the offers only reassured them they were making the right choice.

Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said Burrow might be the most accurate college quarterback he’s studied, Andrew Luck being the closest comparison. Having worked with Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford in past coaching stints, Callahan sees similarities there as well in terms of mentality.

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow celebrates a touchdown pass against Clemson during the College Football Playoff National Championship game at Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans on January 13, 2020. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images/TNS)
Photo: Contributing Writer

Both Callahan and Taylor described Burrow as a player with a high football IQ and an ability to diagnose defenses and adjust plays as necessary. They liked how Burrow elevates those around him, has a strong pocket presence and can elude defenders to extend plays, while also earning the respect of coaches and teammates – all traits Taylor said they couldn’t pass up.

“He has an earned confidence,” Taylor said. “It’s a confidence he’s earned because he put the work in. He’s achieved success on the field with a national championship. I can tell he doesn’t take that for granted. He knows that he has to continue to work even harder than he ever has before at this level. There’s new challenges he hasn’t faced before. You can tell he’s very comfortable in his own skin, and comfortable with what we’re asking him to do.”

Burrow said he prides himself on his competitiveness. Whether it’s a game of ping pong or chess or football or basketball, he always wants to win and he is willing to put the work into becoming a better player. He hopes that rubs off on those around him.

Success at LSU didn’t come easily, even though Burrow said coming off the field as a junior – after a decent but not outstanding season – he knew the Tigers would compete for a championship the following year. Burrow was a standout at Athens High, leading the Bulldogs to a 14-1 season as a senior with a 56-52 loss in the Division III state final, but he redshirted as a freshman at Ohio State and then saw limited time as a backup the next two years before transferring to LSU.

Burrow said his confidence was shaken after leaving Ohio State, but he knew if he put the work in, he could still be an impact player. After his junior season, he knew what he needed to work on and did what he needed to improve. That gave him a new level of confidence going into the 2019 season and the adversity he faced earlier in his career now prepares him for the transition to Cincinnati.

“Teams are picking at the top of the draft for a reason,” Burrow said. “I’m not going to sacrifice my standards of play and I expect to win every single football game. But you also have to be a little realistic. I’ve gone through ups and downs and I’ve been through it. And through the entire process, I’ve just kept working hard and kept faith in that preparation and in that hard work to get me to this point, and that’s exactly what I’m going to keep doing through the ups and downs this next year and the years to follow.”

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