Back in 2012, Andrew Luck produced the most prolific passing season by a rookie quarterback in NFL history, establishing new records for yards in a single game (433) and season (4,374). He was also astonishingly clutch, directing a league-leading seven game-winning drives. Indianapolis finished with an 11-5 record, a nine-win improvement over the prior year.
All things considered, it was a remarkable first season for the top overall pick in the 2012 draft. Luck still tossed 18 picks and completed just 54.1 percent of his throws that year, so it’s not as if he was perfect. But no rookie had ever produced his raw passing totals.
We’re not gonna go so far as to guarantee a bigger season than Luck’s because it’s no small achievement to average 270-plus yards per game in the NFL, regardless of age or experience. We’re just saying that Burrow’s first-year setup is as good as any in recent memory — and for a QB drafted at 1-1, it’s absolutely ridiculous. Let’s consider the key details:
Cincinnati’s offensive weapons are exceptional
Luck had Reggie Wayne and first-year T.Y. Hilton at his disposal in 2012, which certainly helped. Burrow is about to be surrounded by playmakers, too. A.J. Green is coming off a lost season, but he’s at full strength right now and, when he’s right, he’s an unsolvable problem:
Under normal circumstances, a quarterback drafted first overall isn’t walking into a situation in which a player of Green’s caliber is waiting. If A.J. can simply remain healthy(-ish), he’s the sort of receiver who can tilt coverage and make life easier for everyone else.
Burrow will also have Tyler Boyd in the mix, following back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, as well as Clemson rookie Tee Higgins, an expected starter. Higgins was a dominant collegiate receiver, much too strong/skilled/large for ACC defensive backs. His star potential seems obvious. Higgins’ highlight reel is full of catches that should not have been made:
Shoulda been a first-rounder.
When Green, Boyd, Higgins, and tight end C.J. Uzomah are all on the field, Burrow’s receiving corps will have ridiculous size (6-4, 6-2, 6-4, 6-6). The gigantic Auden Tate (6-5) is still in the team picture, as is field-stretcher John Ross. Running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard are both pretty fair receiving threats, too. This team’s offense is sneaky-loaded.
The Bengals’ O-line should be less terrible
Life in the pocket wasn’t easy for Andy Dalton last year, no question. Traditional and advanced analytics agree: Cincinnati’s offensive line play was lousy. The Bengals allowed 48 sacks and the fourth-most yards lost to sacks (342) in the NFL. The team ranked No. 28 in PFF‘s pass-blocking efficiency and they allowed the fifth-most hurries. Not good.
But last season, Cincinnati was without presumptive starting left tackle Jonah Williams, the No. 11 overall pick in the 2019 draft. Williams was a mauler at Alabama, a two-time All American, but he suffered a shoulder injury requiring surgery last summer. He returned to practice in December and should be good-to-go in 2020. He’s a potential difference-maker. The Bengals also reinforced the O-line by signing veteran Dallas guard Xavier Su’a-Filo.
No one is trying to tell you this team’s line is suddenly elite, but it’s clearly an improved unit. If this group can stay healthy into the regular season, it’s a win for the rookie QB.
And by the way …
Burrow himself is damn good
Perhaps we shouldn’t have saved this point for the end, because it’s plainly the most important. Burrow authored a perfect collegiate season in 2019, beginning with a 5-TD, zero-INT performance against Georgia Southern and ending with 5-TD, zero-INT clinic in the national title game against Clemson. He passed for 5,671 yards and an almost unfathomable 60 touchdowns. He completed 76.3 percent of his throws and averaged 10.8 yards per attempt. Burrow also ran for 368 yards and five scores, as if his game needed another dimension. He really was an unstoppable force:
Whatever trait you value most in a quarterback prospect, Burrow displayed it. Elite ball placement? Check. Inventiveness? Touch? Arm strength? Anticipation? Internal clock? Leadership? It’s all there. He has weapons-grade confidence. Burrow routinely beat good coverage with surgical accuracy.
If you’re concerned that he only gave us one season of elite production, we’ll remind you that he did it over 15 flawless games, against the toughest possible schedule. In wins over Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson last season, he averaged 424.5 yards per game, throwing 19 touchdown passes and zero picks. His game-log is obscene.
Again, it’s hardly a lock that Burrow will challenge Luck’s rookie yardage marks or Baker Mayfield’s record of 27 passing TDs. But for a first-year QB, Burrow’s been dealt a very strong hand. He’s a good bet to emerge as a streamable and/or starting option in larger fantasy formats.
If you need a forecast, put me down for something like 4,180 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 14 INTs. In a best-case scenario, Burrow can rewrite the rookie record book.