The Bengals are telling anyone who’ll listen at the Senior Bowl this week that they have a long way to go in determining which player’s name will be called first at the 2020 NFL draft in Las Vegas. But what you may not have heard—Cincinnati has already covered a lot of ground in trying to figure it out.
Since his season ended, Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan has watched the coaches’ film of every 2019 snap that LSU quarterback Joe Burrow took. Quarterback coach Alex Van Pelt has done the same, and head coach Zac Taylor is almost there—“I can’t say I’ve watched every throw on tape,” he told me over lunch Wednesday. “I’ve watched a good portion.”
Cincinnati still needs to learn who Burrow is as a person, and there’s plenty of time to do that. But with three months left until draft day, the staff has a pretty good picture of who he is as a player.
“He’s a winner,” Taylor said, during a break in a hectic Senior Bowl schedule for his staff. “You can tell that he leads the guys around him, you can tell the effect he’s had on the whole state—the team, the state, even the state of Ohio to some extent. Those are intangibles that you can’t coach. He set all the accuracy records, all the great things he did in the SEC this year. This didn’t happen by accident.
“He’s always in great body position to throw the ball, and he can extend plays when necessary. There are certainly a lot of traits that translate well to the NFL.”
This illustrates why the Bengals—and so many others—like Burrow, and why he’s been installed as the early favorite to be the first player off the board in April. But nothing is 100% yet. Through the team’s own process, Cincinnati is going to make Burrow compete for being drafted first, and let a small number of (likely three) players do the same. The team hopes that through this process, there will be a moment when it actually does become 100% for them.
Part of that process, and an important part of it, isn’t far from completion. Another part of it is just revving up here in rural Alabama, even if Burrow himself didn’t make the trip.