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Will Adrian Martinez see a Joe Burrow rise in 2021?

Adrian Martinez is an NFL Draft afterthought heading into 2021, but so was Joe Burrow back in 2019. Can Martinez follow a similar path?

Before his historic 2019 campaign, Joe Burrow was a Day 3 prospect at best. Heading into 2021, Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez is even farther down the pecking order. But as we’ve seen in the past, with prospects like Burrow and 2021 No. 2 pick Zach Wilson, quarterbacks can come out of nowhere. Does Martinez have that potential?

Adrian Martinez’s standing heading into 2021

Martinez came to Nebraska in lockstep with head coach Scott Frost. And when he arrived, he immediately took hold of the starting job.

All things considered, Martinez had a strong true-freshman season for the Cornhuskers in 2018. He completed 224 of his 347 attempts (64.6%) for 2,617 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. He also amassed 629 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground.

Martinez earned Freshman All-American honors and an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection. He looked like the next rising star. But things have only gone downhill since. In 2019, Martinez threw for 1,956 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions with a 59.4% completion rate. Then in 2020, he passed for 1,055 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 3 picks in seven games.

Due to experience alone, Martinez has plenty of name recognition. But as a draft prospect, he has virtually no hype. References to Burrow and Wilson can be made to represent how unpredictable draft projections are, thus giving some hope for Martinez. However, at the same time, we can’t force these comparisons and make unrealistic statements.

Does Martinez’s situation have any notable similarities to Burrow’s from 2019? How might he see a rise in draft stock? On the flip side, what might keep him from achieving such an outcome?

How Martinez is similar to Burrow

There’s one obvious similarity between 2019 Burrow and 2021 Martinez — both are imperfect prospects. Entering 2019, Burrow hadn’t quite come out of his shell as a quarterback. He’d originally committed to Ohio State, but when Dwayne Haskins won the starting job in 2018, Burrow transferred to LSU.

Burrow had a competent season in 2018, but he still struggled with consistency. Having said this, Burrow did start to catch fire down the stretch, showing signs of progression. In his final four weeks in 2018, he went 81/121 for 1,166 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 1 interception.

Like Burrow in 2019, Martinez hasn’t had his breakout season. Martinez didn’t have the week-to-week progression in 2020 that Burrow had in 2018. That’s a notable distinction, but like Burrow, Martinez’s 2020 campaign may have left the Nebraska QB wanting more.

Additionally, while Martinez isn’t very similar to Burrow as a prospect, there are some high-upside traits that Burrow shared. Like Burrow, Martinez is mobile and physically competent in off-script situations. In fact, he may be a better athlete than Burrow. Martinez also has good arm strength and arm elasticity. His raw tools, much like Burrow, could help catalyze a career season if things start to click on the mental side.

How Martinez differs from Burrow

Now, here’s where we pour cold water on the situation. In a perfect world, Martinez does take the next step. He hones his physical traits, takes a leap mentally, and emerges out of nowhere in an uncertain quarterback class. However, there are a few notable differences between him and 2018 Burrow — differences that could halt his ascension.

First off, we’ve established that Burrow was trending up heading into 2019. He was coming off his first season as a full-time starter, and his best play came in the final stretch of that season. On the other hand, Martinez has been volatile his entire career. His best season was as a true freshman in 2018, and he hasn’t displayed notable progression since.

It is worth noting that Martinez dealt with injuries throughout the 2019 season, much like Zach Wilson did before his 2020 explosion. Injuries can indeed stunt growth, but Martinez hasn’t displayed a notable difference in performance even when healthy.

Going further, Burrow was a better passer in 2018 than Martinez was in 2020. Burrow showed more poise in the pocket and a bit more control against chaos. He was also more decisive and proactive as a passer. He still grew by leaps and bounds in 2019, but Martinez has a much greater gap to traverse.

Has the situation led to stagnation?

Martinez himself has left plays on the table, but his situation certainly hasn’t helped him. The Cornhuskers have struggled in just about every facet under Scott Frost. They’ve struggled to acquire and develop supportive talent, compete against superior Big Ten opponents, and stay out of controversy off the field.

Obviously, Martinez takes some responsibility for his own development. But some environments can be detrimental to player growth — Nebraska’s fits the bill.

Joe Burrow had a wunderkind offensive mind in Joe Brady on the other side of the headset in 2019. Martinez, meanwhile, has had two offensive coordinators in his three seasons at Nebraska, each with no previous NFL coaching experience.

Martinez’s first offensive coordinator (Troy Walters) split time between being the OC and the wide receivers coach. His second and current coordinator (Matt Lubick) left the Washington Huskies after 2018 and joined Frost’s staff after a year off from coaching. He knew Frost from their days at Oregon, and that connection was the driving force in the hire.

Simply put, Martinez hasn’t worked with an offensive mind that’s proven themselves as Brady did. Thus, while Martinez himself has underwhelmed, he hasn’t been in a great environment. That likely won’t change in 2021.

Can Adrian Martinez rise into the early rounds unexpectedly?

Comparing Martinez and Burrow, we can safely deduce that Martinez is more likely to remain stagnant than follow a Burrow-like trajectory in 2021. That’s not to say that it can’t happen for Martinez. However, many of the positive indicators and supporting factors that were there for Burrow aren’t there for Martinez.

In 2019, Burrow was trending up, spanning back to the final weeks of 2018. He had a great coaching staff, headlined by Joe Brady, and he also had a potentially historic receiving corps. Both Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson went in Round 1 of their respective drafts, while Terrace Marshall Jr. went in Round 2.

Nebraska hasn’t had a receiver drafted since 2015. And the team’s premier recruiting score of recent years, Wan’Dale Robinson, transferred to Kentucky.

Yet, here is some hope for Martinez. He has two talented receivers in Omar Manning and Zavier Betts that are developing. Furthermore, Martinez himself has the physical traits to work through adversity. He’s a stellar athlete with a good arm and has shown he can work through progressions at times.

Regardless, Martinez has a lot of work to do if he wants to rise into the early-round conversation. He has to improve his decision-making and timing, reduce his turnover count, and become more poised and consistent overall. Crazier things have happened, but this would still be near the top of the list.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and his voice and face on Pro Football Network Daily. Follow him on Twitter @ian_cummings_9.

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