Joe Burrow has ascended.
Through his rookie season and the first quarter of action in 2021, the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback was the same accurate, high-level processor we saw during his prolific, Heisman-winning 2019 season at LSU. Only something was missing: the magic, the fleeting flashes of brilliance that propelled him to the top of his draft class, was gone.
In order to break the glass ceiling of NFL quarterback play and become a true superstar, he needed to rediscover that element of his game. And over the last couple of months, he’s done just that.
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When Burrow and his LSU Tigers took the country by storm in 2019, his tape was filled with special plays outside the structure of the offense. He would routinely make jaw-dropping plays outside of the pocket, and although the history books would love to boil down an entire season into just one “Heisman moment,” there were plenty.
This one against Georgia first comes to mind:
Joe Burrow is a magician. pic.twitter.com/PU55GUFXhx
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 8, 2019
These plays had become routine and probably even undersold how good he was as a pocket passer. And while many of these are seemingly once-in-a-lifetime plays, they are the kind teams need in the modern NFL.
Those scramble plays were not an element of his game in 2018, his first at LSU. Nor did they appear very often in his first year of NFL action. Instead, he decided to stick within the structure of the offense. And while his play from the pocket has always been good, he still needed the ability to elevate his team with those kinds of plays.
Joe Burrow: PFF grade on scramble plays, 2019-2021
|Season||PFF Grade||Passing Yards Per Attempt||Passer Rating|
|2020-2021 Week 7||64.7||6.3||39.7|
|2021 Week 8- Week 16||77.8||10.1||115.8|
If Burrow is back to making plays outside of structure, he can elevate the Bengals to the next level. And this is what is going to separate him from very good to generational.
Partly because of his playstyle and partly because of the offensive line in front of him, Burrow will take a lot of sacks. This is the burden some quarterbacks put on themselves so they can give themselves a chance to make a play. The important thing for Burrow is to minimize that sack rate just a bit.
It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue, but it’s why he’s the highest-graded quarterback in football right now.
“Nobody Calls me Chicken”