Ever since the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in last season’s NFL Draft, fans of the team have been hoping that he will save the long-suffering franchise from what at this point is decades of mediocrity. It’s easy to see why they are so excited; Burrow is coming off of arguably the single best season by a quarterback in college football history, throwing for an NCAA record 60 touchdowns, winning the Heisman Trophy, and leading LSU to a national championship victory.
For a fanbase that hasn’t watched their team win a playoff game in 29 seasons, that kind of pedigree will inevitably lead to high hopes. The question, then, is whether or not Burrow has lived up to those lofty expectations so far this season.
Burrow’s box-score statistics have been impressive thus far
Through the first two weeks of the NFL season, Burrow made significant strides towards rewarding those who have placed their faith in him. He’s totaled 509 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception through the air, and added an additional touchdown on the ground.
And while it is true that Cincinnati lost both of those games, it was only by a combined eight points. The first, against the Los Angeles Chargers, was a missed chip-shot field goal away from going to overtime. The world in which the Bengals started the season with at least a 1-1 record is not so disparate from this one. All told, not a bad start for the rookie.
However, just looking at Burrow’s box-score statistics doesn’t tell the full story. After all, most of his statistical productivity this season came last week against the Cleveland Browns, a game in which he threw the ball 61 times, the most by any player so far this season.
If a quarterback doesn’t produce statistically when they have that many pass attempts, they are doing something wrong. Additionally, the Bengals offensive line appears to be one of the worst in the NFL, so it’s likely that Burrow’s teammates are holding him back to a certain extent.
Thanks to these mitigating factors, we need more advanced statistics in order to fully grasp Burrow’s level of play. PFN’s Offensive Value Metric (OVM), which measures how valuable a player was to their offense regardless of their actual statistical production, is perfectly suited to just such a situation. So, let’s use it to gain a better understanding of how well Burrow has really played so far this season.
Using the OVM to evaluate Burrow’s performances
Burrow’s OVM grades are not as impressive as his statistics might lead you to expect. In Week 1, he received a grade of 27.80 and followed that up with a 23.62 in Week 2. Both of those grades indicate that Burrow played at the level of a league-average quarterback. Not terrible, but not exactly stellar either.
To find out why the OVM gave Burrow such mediocre grades, we need to look at his advanced metrics from each game, starting with Week 1 against the Chargers. In that game, Burrow’s receivers struggled to get open, forcing him to throw into tight windows 22.2% of the time, the fifth-highest ratio among qualifying quarterbacks that week. In this game, Burrow handled the difficulties relatively well. His completion percentage wasn’t particularly high, at 63.9%, but, according to the NFL’s calculations, it was 2.7% higher than it should have been.
Week 2 tells a similar story, but Burrow was slightly less impressive on both statistics. His receivers were more open on average, causing him to throw into tight windows less often, the percentage dropping to 18.0%. That is still above average, but not to the same extreme as in the week prior.
Similarly, his completion percentage of 60.7% was slightly lower than the previous week and was also just 1.7% higher than expected. As such, even though Burrow’s traditional statistics in Week 2 were higher, he was significantly less efficient, and therefore less valuable, to the offense overall.
In both games, Burrow was put into relatively difficult situations, and wound up completing more of his passes than he should have, but only by an extremely narrow margin. Simply put, early in his career, he has been a player who takes what the defense gives him, but not much more than that.
Honestly, for a rookie on a terrible team, that’s not terrible. There are several other NFL quarterbacks incapable of doing the same. Unfortunately for Burrow, the expectations surrounding him are so high that just playing at a middling level won’t be good enough in the long term.
The jury is still out on the new Cincinnati star’s future prospects
Burrow’s performances in his first two games are not going to determine his career trajectory. Cincinnati is clearly not a very good team, and Burrow still needs time to adjust to playing at an NFL level. There is still plenty of time for him to become the messiah that some make him out to be.
As it stands, however, Burrow has yet to prove that he can be an elite quarterback at the NFL level. It will be interesting to see how he develops over the remainder of the season, starting against the struggling Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Hopefully, for the Bengals, he starts to show signs of being the legendary player that they desperately need him to be.
Lucas Ellinas is a writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Lucas_Ellinas.