Sophomore Superstars: Joe Burrow
I'm starting up a new segment where I go into 2020 rookies who didn't live up to the hype or went down with an injury that left fans and organizations wanting more. I'll discuss players from every position starting with quarterbacks and specifically Bengals rookie QB, Joe Burrow.
Burrow had a good rookie year where he completed 65.3% of his passes for 2,688 yards, 13 touchdowns and, 5 interceptions in 10 games but went down with a brutal injury where he tore his ACL and MCL in his left knee resulting in him missing the remainder of the season. With the additions to the Bengals offense, I expect Burrow to take a big jump forward as long as he can remain healthy. Some of those additions include Ja'Marr Chase, additions to the offensive line, as well as Burrow's advancement within the offense itself simply from being in the system for a full offseason.
Let's start by taking a look at how well Burrow performed last season...
We'll look at both Burrow's passer rating and percentage of throws on targets to different depths of the field based on PFF stats.
Behind the LOS: 84.4 passer rating and 93% on target (league average 94%)
0-9 yards down the field: 104.7 passer rating and 85% on target (league average 83%)
10-19 yards down the field: 97.0 passer rating and 67% on target (league average 65%)
20+ yards down the field: 50.8 passer rating and 21% on target (league average 42%)
When looking at all of those stats, Burrow was at minimum average to all levels of the field except when attacking downfield where he struggled both with his accuracy and his passer rating. He was 9/48 on throws that were 20+ yards down the field, 38 of which were targeted at A.J Green (1/17) with a passer rating of 59.8 or Tee Higgins (6/19) with a passer rating of 116.3.
Now let's look at his performance based on the time in the pocket. When he got rid of the ball in under 2.5 seconds, he was on target on 78.5% of his throws and when he held on to the ball for 2.6 or more seconds he was on target on 61.3% of his throws. He was also sacked 32 times which was about 7% of his dropbacks in only 10 games.
Now let's look at why I think Burrow will excel in 2021...
First, the Bengals replaced A.J Green with Burrow's former teammate in Ja'Marr Chase. At LSU, Chase put up 84 receptions for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns with average yards per catch of 21.2. On targets of 20+ yards, Chase and Burrow connected on 24/36 for 14 touchdowns. To say the least, Burrow and Chase were dominant on deep throws and there's no reason why their success won't continue in the NFL. By replacing Green with Chase, the Bengals should immediately become more successful with their ability to attack defenses vertically as Chase and Burrow have built fantastic chemistry back from their time at LSU. And considering this was the only area where Burrow struggled last season, even if he can just play at the league average when throwing the ball down the field, his numbers should dramatically increase as well as the Bengals overall offensive efficiency.
Next, we'll look at the offensive line. Jonah Williams was drafted in 2019 but missed his entire rookie season due to an injury so 2020 was technically his rookie season. Starting at left tackle for 10 games, just like Burrow, and he allowed 3 sacks on 429 snaps. We can expect, if healthy, that Williams will be able to take a step forward with his ability to protect Burrow as well as create lanes in the run game. This offseason the Bengals added veteran right tackle Riley Reiff, who has been one of the more consistent and reliable tackles in the league. He will be a massive upgrade at right tackle and has missed at most 3 games in a single season and gave up only 1 sack on 567 pass-block snaps last season which will be huge for Burrow. The interior offensive line is where the Bengals needed the most improvement and they added Jackson Carman in the 2nd round out of Clemson. He lined up as a tackle but will compete for a starting guard position. I see the Bengals using Bobby Hart as a guard and keeping Trey Hopkins at center where he logged 600 pass-block snaps and gave up only a single snap.
Overall with the additions and development on the offensive line as well as bringing in stud receiver and former LSU teammate, Ja'Marr Chase, will result in Joe Burrow taking a big jump this season as well as the Bengals offense as a whole. This all will come down to the healthy of Burrow at the end of the day though as if he cannot remain healthy, he obviously cannot take a step forward and become a Sophomore Superstar.