The more we study and evaluate prospects, the more we in the media come to a rather uncomfortable truth: Despite all the time we spend watching tape and breaking quarterbacks down and debating traits and skill-sets, none of it matters.
Because what matters more to a potential NFL prospect, especially at the quarterback position, is the scheme fit and landing spot.
Take the last two Most Valuable Players. Sure, there were some who believed Patrick Mahomes could be a great NFL quarterback, but is Mahomes reaching his level of play under a Jeff Fisher? Or Lamar Jackson. He also had believers, but he needed the right organization to buy into what he brings to the table as a quarterback.
Landing spot and scheme fit matter.
Looking at some of the prospects in this draft, where are the best landing spots for them?
Joe Burrow: Cincinnati Bengals
Let’s get the obvious selection out of the way first.
Burrow to the Cincinnati Bengals with the first overall selection makes too much sense. Almost to the point that if you pitched this as a movie, studio executives might call it a bit “over the top.” A hometown kid comes back to Ohio to resurrect a franchise that badly needs saving. Along the way he helps raise money for a downtrodden area of Ohio while collecting his Heisman Trophy.
But the “Rise of Burrow” is real, and why he fits with the Bengals is a reason why.
Last summer when everyone, myself included, was studying the potential draft quarterbacks Burrow was certainly on the watch list. I was perhaps more hopeful than others that Burrow could develop into an intriguing prospect, as I highlighted in this piece for the Matt Waldman Rookie Scouting Portfolio. As I wrote back in July, “[d]igging into his film a bit more uncovers flashes of what you want to see from a young quarterback, and what NFL scouts are anxious to discover.”
While anticipation throws over the middle were something Burrow was showing a year ago, this past season he demonstrated three things critical to his NFL fit: Pocket presence, ball placement and processing speed. This season, Burrow showed that he could handle pockets breaking down around him while still extending plays, he could deliver on almost every throw with tremendous ball placement, and he attacked defenses as well with his mind as he did his physical traits.
In addition, under Joe Brady the LSU passing game evolved as well. During Burrow’s 2018 campaign, the Tigers relied on a heavy amount of maximum protection concepts in the passing game. The numbers were pointed out by Neil Hornsby from Pro Football Focus:
Interesting piece on Joe Burrow in @peter_king 's FMIA today. It mentioned the way LSU had reduced the # of pass protectors this year. While I knew something of this I'd never run the numbers so I did… Pretty stark. pic.twitter.com/gE2M3OSqMt
— Neil Hornsby (@PFF_Neil) February 24, 2020
On an overwhelming majority of LSU’s passing plays in 2019, Burrow was in effect the sixth man in protection.
Aside from quarterback, offensive line is a critical piece the Bengals need to upgrade in 2020. Even if Jonah Williams lives up to expectations at left tackle and Trey Hopkins shows he was worth his recent contract extension, there are still holes that need patching. With the OL a question mark, a quarterback with a proven track record of pocket management, quick decision-making and the ability to handle things when protection breaks down – or he is the sixth man in the protection scheme – makes a great deal of sense.
Finally, consider Zac Taylor’s system. Given his background with Sean McVay, the Bengals implement a lot of quicker passing concepts that attack the defense and create space. Spacing concepts, West Coast concepts, all designs that will be very familiar to Burrow given what LSU was running last season. Mix in some A.J. Green over the top, and now you’re cooking with gas as an offense.