Former LSU star quarterback Joe Burrow has rightfully been the consensus number one pick in the 2020 NFL Draft ever since he led LSU on a record breaking national championship winning run. However, there are more obstacles for him to overcome if he’s going to translate the elite level play he showed all throughout last season to the NFL than most people realize. This article is Pro Football Magazine’s final Joe Burrow scouting report and will look to highlight the attributes that allowed him to have arguably the best college football season of all time, as well as the aforementioned obstacles that he will have to overcome to be an elite starting NFL quarterback.
Games watched (all-22): Texas, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia, OU, Clemson
Best game: Alabama
Worst game: Georgia
Joe Burrow Scouting Report: Ball Placement
Ball placement to me comes down to an understanding of where to place the ball and how much velocity to put on the throw, as well as being able to actually place the ball on the desired spot and trajectory.
One thing I did notice while analyzing Burrow was that his drop timing and depth was sometimes inconsistent. This sometimes caused him to be a bit late on throws, but apart from that there didn’t seem to be any tangible downside to this inconsistency.
His throwing motion was very compact and there was never any wasted motion. This allowed him to be incredibly consistent as it was an easily repeatable process. It also allowed him to be consistent when throwing on the run.
Burrow’s mastery of LSU’s core concepts meant that he was almost always lined up correctly to throw to his intended receiver. This again allowed him to be incredibly consistent.
Understanding of ball placement and trajectory
When his wide receivers were open, he was very good at placing the ball on their upfield shoulder, maximizing their ability to add yards after the catch. The only times that I saw him throw behind open receivers was when his timing was a bit off. However, this was certainly a rarity.
Burrow undoubtedly benefited from having receivers like Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase, who are both brilliant on contested catches. However, Burrow consistently maximized their talents by putting the ball in the best place possible. Burrow showed a great understanding of throwing the ball up for receivers when the defender’s back is turned. He also showed a great understanding of when to put loft on the ball in order to lead his receiver away from the defender, and when to throw it back shoulder. His mastery of these ideas allowed him to be incredible on go and fade routes, even while lacking a strong arm.
Arguably, what separated Burrow the most from most other quarterbacks was his understanding and ability of how much velocity to put on the ball when it came to throwing over the middle. This trait is likely why LSU built their passing game around attacking the middle of the field.
Overall ball placement: 10
Joe Burrow Scouting Report: Arm strength
The New Orleans Saints use a variation of the Doubles play that I detailed in my article on LSU’s offense, that has out routes from the two outside receivers. However, even though LSU used the other variations of the Doubles play very frequently, I didn’t see them use this play once. I also never saw them use any other play that included a deep out or comeback route.
The conspicuous absence of these type of routes is most likely because LSU had much more trust in Burrow’s throwing ability over the middle. Ball placement and trajectory are key when throwing over the middle as the throwing windows are a lot tighter. Throwing to the outside, however, requires good arm strength. This is why it’s usually used as a barometer on whether a QB has good arm strength. I think Burrow has sufficient arm strength to make these throws, but there is ambiguity as I literally have never seen him do it.
One caveat when it comes to evaluating his arm strength is that he was rarely throwing the ball with full velocity. There were numerous examples of him being able to put more velocity on the ball than usual in order to make tight windows. Having a quarterback that can change up the velocity is more important than a quarterback who can put a ton of velocity on the ball, but isn’t able to vary it much.
So, overall I don’t think his lack of a strong arm will hurt him that much in the NFL. However, I do think it will force the team that he plays for to reduce how often he has to throw timing routes to the outside (deep outs and comebacks).
Arm strength: 4
The saying “he’s able to see the field very well” makes it seem like the key to great anticipation is being able to see a lot at once. However, the key to great anticipation is knowing exactly what to look for, while ignoring all of the extraneous details, i.e you have to determine the signal from the noise. Burrow’s mastery of LSU’s core concepts allowed him to know exactly what to look for. This is why he was almost always very poised in the pocket as he wasn’t inundated with information. An example of this is when they would run their Doubles play with go routes on the outside. When using this play, Burrow would always read the middle of the field, and if it was closed, he would throw one of the go routes without hesitation as he knew that they were isolated, whether it was zone or man.
As mentioned in my article on LSU’s offense, LSU prioritized making their system quarterback friendly. One of the ways they did this was by using what are called movement/read keys. This makes things easier for the quarterback, as all he has to do is read that player and throw it based on what he does. Burrow was very decisive on these reads as he knew exactly what he was looking for. This allowed them to have a lot of success on these plays.
Joe Burrow Scouting Report: Understanding the intricacies of playing quarterback
No matter how physically talented you are, you will never be a top tier quarterback if you don’t understand the intricacies of playing the position. Arguably the most important of these intricacies is eye manipulation. Burrow’s understanding of eye manipulation showed up whenever he was throwing over the middle.
When playing zone, the underneath defenders will usually have their eyes on the quarterback, determining his intentions. Thus if the quarterback stares down his intended target, they will be more likely to be in a position to break up or intercept the pass. An example of a quarterback who doesn’t understand eye manipulation is Utah State’s Jordan Love, who consistently threw interceptions to underneath defenders as they were able to determine his intentions.
Burrow, however, was able to consistently move underneath defenders with his eyes, opening up the window to his intended target. This was another area where Burrow’s mastery of LSU’s concepts had its benefits as he knew exactly where and when the window to his intended receiver would be there.
Football intelligence: 9
When Burrow was under intense pressure, he showed great poise, either standing and delivering, or making a defender (or multiple defenders) miss. His ability to make defenders miss was probably the thing that surprised me the most when watching him as he certainly is known for his athleticism. Also, when scrambling out of the pocket, he always did a great job of keeping his eyes downfield. This resulted in a lot of spectacular throws outside the pocket. Also, I didn’t see him make many bad decisions outside the pocket.
When under little to no pressure, he wasn’t jittery at all and didn’t make any unnecessary movements in the pocket.
Something that I noticed was that he has a tendency to roll out to his right when he feels a bit of pressure, but enough to warrant looking to escape the pocket. This is something Baker Mayfield has struggled with throughout his career. Burrow did make some nice throws when doing this, but it did result in him missing possible downfield throws if he had stayed in the pocket. It also led to some unnecessary sacks. This was really the only consistent weakness that I observed in his game and is something that I think he will benefit from by limiting. The most likely reason he did this was that he had a lot of faith in his abilities to make plays when outside the pocket.
Pocket presence: 8
It didn’t happen often, but when a play broke down, Burrow more often than not was able to salvage it with his scrambling ability. He is most certainly not fast, but he does have good acceleration, which allows him to break away from pass rushers and beat second level defenders to the first down marker. He also showed a pretty good ability to make defenders miss when outside the pocket.
His power through contact isn’t bad, but he’s still not great in short yardage situations with the ball in his hands, and thus I think it’s best to avoid using him on designed runs, while still taking advantage of his scrambling ability.
The only times I would use him as a runner are on zone reads in key short yardage situations and on QB draws in the red zone.
Pretty much every quarterback struggles with the transition from a college playbook to an NFL playbook. However, as mentioned throughout this article, a lot of Burrow’s success was derived from his mastery of LSU’s concepts, so it will likely have a bigger impact on his transition to the NFL than for most other quarterbacks. Thus, I think the biggest obstacle that he will face when it comes to translating his success last season to the NFL is whether he can master the concepts that the team he plays for use.
This will be challenging as LSU ran a lot less concepts than most NFL teams, so there is ambiguity over whether he will be able to master them the same way he mastered LSU’s concepts. As it’s very likely that he will be drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, I looked through Zac Taylor’s playbook when he was with the Dolphins and I counted 27 individual concepts, and also a lot more routes and protections than Burrow would have learned with LSU.
As mentioned in the section evaluating his arm strength, his ability to make timing throws on the outside is for the most part unknown. Underneath defenders in the NFL are a lot more athletic and intelligent than they are in college, making it harder to throw over the middle, and he won’t be able to rely on his receivers been able to make contested catches as much.
Thus he will likely have to be able make the timing throws to the outside if he wants to be an elite quarterback in the NFL. Also, against top level pass rushers, the downsides of his tendency to roll to the outside of the pocket to his right will likely be exacerbated.
Burrow and Baker Mayfield were both transfers who had Heisman winning seasons out of nowhere and will very likely both end up being number one draft picks. I feel like that it’s a possibility that he buys into his own hype, like Mayfield did, turning his confidence into arrogance, and as Mayfield has learned, if you’re not humble, the NFL will humble you.
If the same thing happens with Burrow, it will likely result in him not putting in the necessary effort to master the concepts that his team uses. Another obstacle that Burrow will face is that he will likely be playing with a dysfunctional franchise that has a terrible record of developing young quarterbacks, and thus his development will be harder than it would be if he went to a team like the Baltimore Ravens or Kansas City Chiefs.
If Burrow is selected by the Bengals, they will likely have a losing season no matter how he performs, as the Bengals have a severe shortage of talent. As the following statement suggests, I’m not sure how well he would handle it if the Bengals had a season like they did last year.
“I’ve won everywhere that I’ve been. I’ve never had a losing season in sports from the moment I was 5 years old. I’m not a loser. I just want to go somewhere where I can win, ”Joe Burrow recently said on Shaq’s podcast.
If I was Burrow’s offensive coordinator, I would utilize a lot of the concepts that Burrow excelled at with LSU, and also use a lot of empty and spread formations, like LSU did. I would mix in some bootlegs as he is excellent at throwing on the run and will make the transition smoother. I would also be more comfortable using longer developing pass concepts as he is very good at reading defenses post snap and anticipating throws, and is also great if the play breaks down.
My area of emphasis when it comes to improving his game would be working on the timing routes to the outside as he will need to throw them at least a few times a game, but I would still try to limit them somewhat.
I don’t expect him to be able to make that smooth of a transition early on and that is why I don’t think he will have the instant impact that most people expect him to have. His long term success will be dependent on whether he can deal with the likely losing seasons and missed expectations early on his career. If he can do that and also put in the necessary effort, he will likely be able to play at a similar level to what he played at last season.
My high end comparison for him is Drew Brees, as they have similar strengths and weaknesses, and I have no doubt that Burrow can have a Hall of Fame caliber career like Brees has, if he learns and develops well.
My low end comparison for him is Baker Mayfield. Mayfield obviously still has time to develop into a top tier quarterback, but it doesn’t seem likely given his mindset.
Burrow is definitely still worthy of being picked first overall given his incredible upside. He has shown an amazing level of competency in all of the areas that are necessary to be an elite NFL quarterback, but is not the risk free prospect that a lot of people think he is. His excellence in those areas will diminish if he cannot master the nuances of an NFL playbook.
The numbers before the category are the multipliers that Pro Football Magazine will be using in order to weigh each category by its importance. This is done in order to add a level of objectivity to an inevitably subjective process.
(1.5) Ball placement: 15
(.75) Arm strength: 3
(1.5) Anticipation: 13.5
(1.25) Football intelligence: 11.25
(1) Pocket presence: 8
(.75) Mobility: 4
Overall grade: 54.75/67.50- 81%
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(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)