Banking on Burrow: LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is an elite prospect

    LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is white hot in 2019 playing in a new offensive system. Is he a future franchise quarterback and top draft selection?

    If you had told me before the season that an LSU quarterback would be near the top of all passing statistics at this point in the season, I would not have believed you. It is currently Week 10 of the college football season, and LSU quarterback Joe Burrow ranks second in passing yards, second in passing touchdowns, and second in points responsible for. My belief would have been dead wrong. 

    But do you know who won’t be dead wrong in the future? Whichever NFL team drafts Burrow to become their franchise quarterback. 

    I’ll admit, I was a skeptic of Burrow. I felt like he was one of those “too good to be true” stories or a guy that relied more on his playmakers than his own talents. I was waiting until the end of the season to see him live in Mobile and get a full season of tape on him. But with LSU on a bye this week, I decided to dig in and get a full glimpse of him against the five Power Five teams LSU has faced this season. I wanted to see just what kind of quarterback Burrow really is. 

    I am ashamed to admit my prior beliefs were wrong. Very wrong. Burrow’s much more than a “system quarterback” or an unproven stats guy. He’s a franchise quarterback. 


    Accuracy is often referenced as something a quarterback either has or doesn’t have. Burrow has it, and he has it in spades. In my opinion, I think Burrow is the most accurate quarterback in college football right now. Whether he’s in or out of the pocket, Burrow has been money on delivering throws at each level of the football field. He’s first in the country with a 78.8% completion percentage, which is 4.1% higher than the #2 player (Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa). While completion percentage isn’t a reliable stat of how accurate a quarterback is, it’s an astonishing number to note. If Burrow ended the season with 78.8% completion, he would break Colt McCoy‘s single-season record of 76.7% by a full 2.1%. 

    Burrow delivers a very precise football. In terms of this draft class, Burrow is the most precisely accurate of all of the quarterbacks I’ve watched. He throws well at every level of the field with excellent ball placement. I’m not an advanced statistician, but through the five Power Five games Burrow has played, I’ve charted roughly 79% of his passes were accurate and on-target.

    LSU quarterback Burrow checks off every box in the accuracy category. 

    Mental processing/decision-making

    Burrow has excellent (dare I say elite) mental makeup to be an NFL quarterback. He’s a quick processor and doesn’t make many mistakes with the football. The LSU offense isn’t a gimmick offense with many screens and short-yardage concepts, either. Almost every throw Burrow makes is one where he has to read and process what the defense is doing. 

    What I like about Burrow is that he’s decisive with his reads and throws. When you watch some other quarterbacks in this class, the offense looks clunky at times. They’ll read the defense and hitch their steps and look around and around before throwing it. Burrow isn’t that way. He’s got great chemistry with his receivers, and his command of the offense is stellar, and it shows. He has demonstrated an advanced understanding of what the defense is trying to do and he throws with anticipation based on coverage. 

    Arm talent

    I think the biggest knock on Joe Burrow is going to be his lack of “elite physical traits.” I will agree; he doesn’t have the biggest arm in this draft class. That title will likely go to Justin Herbert or Jacob Eason if he declares. However, Burrow is more than fine in this area and he makes several tight-window throws. 

    Sure, Burrow isn’t going to uncork a Hail Mary as we would see from Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers, but that’s a comparison that we don’t need to make at this point. 

    Out-of-structure play & pocket presence

    How a quarterback plays when his first read isn’t there or when there’s pressure in his face is often telling of his NFL potential. The best quarterbacks in the game today excel when there’s pressure in their face, and they make plays outside of structure.

    Burrow excels in this area. Burrow is one of the best quarterbacks I’ve seen out of structure since Mahomes and Watson declared in the 2017 NFL Draft. Every game, he makes a great play out of structure despite his lack of “elite physical traits.” He’s calm and comfortable under pressure and never seems to be rattled. 

    How a quarterback manages the pocket is also critical in determining his play at the next level. Tom Brady has been as successful as he is due to his top-notch pocket presence, despite not being a great athlete. He shifts and slides and manoeuvres in the pocket with ease and comfortability, and so does LSU quarterback Burrow. 

    NFL potential & comp

    There will be some question marks about Burrow and his ability at the next level, as there usually are with quarterbacks. Why the sudden jump in his ability? Is he due for some regression outside of the LSU offense? What is his upside for the next level?  Each of these are valid points of discussion, and I’m going to try and answer these to close out this article. 

    First, the sudden jump in Joe Burrow’s ability is two-fold. I went back and watched a few of his games from the 2018 season. This new LSU offense under passing game coordinator Joe Brady is radically different than what offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger ran last year. During the Texas game, LSU went into an empty set with 5-wide on 1st down, and commentator Chris Fowler remarked, “where’s the fullback?” It was a joke, but it holds merit. Joe Brady worked with the New Orleans Saints and brought over many NFL passing concepts to put in the LSU offense that had gone stagnant.

    The LSU offense has been working out of vastly different and spread-out sets, instead of their tight and congested sets of the past. This is spreading the defense out and allowing more room for Burrow to work with. The schemes and concepts are also getting their wide receivers open quicker and easier.

    The offensive line was also a mess last season in pass protection. A big reason why Burrow played poorly was that the LSU offensive line really couldn’t protect him well. PFF had him clean on roughly 69% of his dropbacks last season.

    That ties back into LSU’s scheme. Since LSU tried to power the football forward and establish the run, they got predictable. This would often force Burrow into third and long scenarios or an obvious passing situation, and the defense would just pin their ears back and blitz. Now, the LSU offense has added new wrinkles and their play-calling has them playing more spread-out, forcing defenses to adjust and not be able to key in on obvious passing situations. 

    I want to re-iterate: Burrow wasn’t “bad” last season. He transferred into a new system and scheme with totally different players. He clicked towards the end of last season. His last four games of 2018: 66.9% completion percentage, 1,166 yards (9.6 YPA), 10 touchdowns, and one interception for a QBR of 173.51.

    Give credit to Head Coach Ed Orgeron for deciding to build on that momentum and bring in Joe Brady to overhaul the passing game. 

    To win in the modern game of football and win the big games, you have to be able to pass the football effectively. LSU has not been successful at this in recent times. At the NFL level, several players have improved significantly with new play-callers and coaches. Jared Goff transformed when Sean McVay became his new head coach over Jeff Fisher. The same thing happened when Bruce Arians became Carson Palmer’s head coach in Arizona as well as when Tony Dungy took over the Indianapolis Colts while Peyton Manning was there. Sometimes it just takes a new face to bring in some change, and that’s what occurred for Joe Burrow under Joe Brady.

    Will he face regression from his LSU scheme? Well, I don’t think anyone is going to expect him to put up his current numbers when in the NFL as a rookie or even in his second or third year. The numbers are incredibly impressive. Will there be some regression? Of course. The learning curve from the collegiate level to the NFL level is massive. It is a big reason why quarterbacks are so difficult to project and are largely dependent on landing spot and situation (see Mahomes with Andy Reid versus Sam Darnold with Adam Gase). The good news for Joe Burrow is that Joe Brady has had experience at the NFL level, and many of the passing concepts he brought with him were from the New Orleans Saints, so Burrow has some experience and familiarity with it.  

    His upside for the NFL level is a tricky situation. Is he going to make the same plays that Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, and Aaron Rodgers make? No, that’s not who he is. Expecting him to be that is insane. He doesn’t possess those same physical traits. Can he be an elite pocket passer who offers some escapability and ability to extend plays? Absolutely. Has he peaked in terms of upside? I don’t believe so. Despite a lack of those physical traits, Joe Burrow can still develop. I don’t believe any player is truly “maxed out” until they have a few years in the NFL.

    All in all, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is an elite quarterback prospect. I recently put him at eighth in my top-10 big board, and I think he’ll stay in my top-10, barring an injury. He’ll have a chance to go one-on-one with coaches and evaluators in Mobile at the Senior Bowl and have a chance to duke it out with other prominent quarterbacks like Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts.

    I see a lot of similarities to Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Much like Ryan, Burrow is building off of a strong senior season and has football bloodlines, as his dad was a defensive coordinator for years. Matt Ryan had questions raised about his arm strength, but that clearly hasn’t held him back, and I don’t think it will hinder Joe Burrow that much either. Both have ice in their veins and have elite mental ability and throw with incredible timing, anticipation, and accuracy. 

    Burrow has the game of his life this weekend against Alabama, but win or lose, the LSU quarterback has shown all the tools to succeed as a franchise NFL quarterback. 

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