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Better Know a Newcomer: Joe Burrow

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JOE BURROW WILL SAVE US.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

There’s a new quarterback in Baton Rouge, and this time, it’s gonna be different.

The welcome basket for new LSU QB Joe Burrow contains dozens of mason jars packed full with unrealistic expectations. Perhaps our Louisiana instincts just overwhelm. After our, our culture is one that specializes in taking all the leftover junk in the fridge and turning it into a steaming hot bowl of delicious stew. Why shouldn’t we expect the same of our new QB, our new star our new... messiah.

Could Burrow finally be the one?

The Story

When Russell Wilson left North Carolina State and transferred to Wisconsin in the summer of 2011, it forever changed the dynamics of recruiting, even if we didn’t understand it at the time. It felt odd and disconnected. Doomed to failure, even. Instead, Wilson put up a monster season for the Badgers and turned himself into a viable NFL prospect, something which remained in doubt during his days at NC State.

Wilson and Badgers exposed a recruiting loophole previously hardly exposed: If a player completes his collegiate degree he is enabled to transfer anywhere he prefers without restriction. And thus, a new recruiting pipeline was born. In recent years we’ve seen this occur with more and more regularity, to the point now that media members cover major graduate transfers and how it will shape the coming college football landscape.

Thus we have Joe Burrow, the prized graduate transfer quarterback of 2018. Burrow landed at Ohio State from The Plains, Ohio, a four-star quarterback with tools enough to vision an NFL future. Ohio State, of course, remains buried in a wealth of QB talent, and through a series of bad luck injuries Burrow proved unable to climb atop the depth chart, despite impressing through multiple offseasons and in limited playing time in 2016 and 2017. Burrow gave it one more good college try and when Ohio State elected to name Dwayne Haskins their starter in 2018, Burrow decided to make his hay elsewhere.

Burrow’s path and connection to LSU is as unique as it is winding. When Burrow signed with Ohio State in 2015, current LSU safeties coach Bill Busch worked in Columbus as a Defensive Analyst for the Buckeyes. When it came time to evaluate the roster, Busch advocated for Burrow, giving him a ringing endorsement to Orgeron and the rest of his colleagues. That set the gears in motion, but Burrow still had a decision to make. He planned a pair of visits, one to Cincinnati, where former Buckeyes defensive coordinator Luke Fickell now mans the head spot and one to LSU. Rumors of other visits abounded. Cincinnati were the clubhouse favorite due to the proximity to home and deep Ohio State connections. Add to the mix that Burrow’s father, Jimmy Burrow, is the defensive coordinator at Ohio University. LSU had a steep hill to climb.

The Burrows came to Baton Rouge and the coaches put on the full-court press. Orgeron made no promises, ensuring Joe he would need to come in and compete. At the time, some thought this shortsighted. Why not promise him the job just to secure the commitment? Orgeron played his cards right, apparently. Burrow sat with Ensminger and new passing game coordinator Jerry Sullivan. The planned 30 minute meeting lasted over three hours. It won Burrow over to LSU and LSU over to Burrow. This is the guy they were looking for. This is the place he was looking for.

Six anxious days went by and Burrow publicly pulled the trigger, announcing he would be transferring to LSU.

The Numbers

110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has “can’t miss” talent.

100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career. There will be 32 prospects ranked in this range in every football class to mirror the first round of the NFL Draft.

97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who is projected to play professionally.

89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country. Many three-stars have significant pro potential.

79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.

247 Composite Rating: ****
247 Composite Ranking: .9003

As a high school recruit, Burrow ranked 280th nationally and held a four-star ranking by just a few decimal points according to 247’s formula. He held a handful of quality offers from the likes of Virginia Tech, Maryland, West Virginia, etc. though Ohio State is clearly the best school on his previous list. Late in the process, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Michigan all tried to get involved, but he stuck with the Buckeyes. He was selected to the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. He was named the Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year in both 2013 and 2014 and then Ohio Mr. Football for 2014 as well.

This is all outdated and incomplete data. Burrow the recruit isn’t Burrow the now grown man with over two seasons of college football under his belt. As a prospect, Burrow needed to add strength and muscle mass, now he showed up on campus looking like a linebacker. He competed at a high level at Ohio State and as recently as March, Urban Meyer publicly stated the battle between he and Haskins was even. Without ever having watched a snap, it’s safe to say Burrow has safely cleared the bust gap. Now the question is, how high can he climb?

The Film

I don’t want to spend one million hours on Burrow’s high school highlights, considering what he is today probably isn’t much the same as that guy. The thing that may immediately surprise you is how athletic he is. Burrow is a guy that can get up and move around. Etling surprised some folks with his mobility last season. Even if Etling couldn’t consistently be a running threat, he proved nimble enough to get himself out of trouble or convert if called upon. I think Burrow’s a level above that, assuming he hasn’t sacrificed all of that with the addition of muscle mass. I think we may see some potential for more shotgun runs. Burrow also has a reputation for not fearing contact. That was true too of Etling, though Burrow is nearly as slight:

Spring games are spring games, but Burrow is checking all the boxes here. He looks calm, comfortable and in command in the pocket. He throws with accuracy. He’s mobile enough to make throws on the run and run a believable fake, and he can get the ball downfield. I imagine LSU will run some neo-version of what Ohio State did with J.T. Barrett, emphasizing the passing game, spreading the ball and incorporating some QB runs when applicable though perhaps not as frequently. Burrow looks like a great fit for that style.

The Future

There’s an edge to Joe Burrow that really draws me to him. After his spring game performance this year, when Meyer didn’t name a starter, Burrow publicly stated:

“Well, I came here to play. I didn’t come here to sit on the bench for four years. I know I’m a pretty good quarterback. I want to play somewhere.”

The confidence and assertiveness is something I felt we’ve lacked at the QB position for many years now. Etling played capably, but somehow always managed to seem somehow the guy by accident rather than the guy by choice. Hell, they tried to give his job away a couple times last season. Burrow’s got the right type of defiance. It’s not arrogance. It’s self-belief. He showed up to a sea of heralded QB recruits in Columbus and played well enough to be in contention to start. Now he’ll show up an outsider in Baton Rouge and command respect to the starting role.

It shows up on tape, too. He’s decisive. He’s confident. He knows what he’s doing out there. I don’t see second-guessing. Admittedly, I’m seeing what I want to see. But there’s something about Burrow’s energy that resonates. For the first time since Mettenberger it seems we have a QB who belongs. Yes, there’s bumps ahead. Yes, he’s not even been named starter. Barring disaster, there’s no way it doesn’t happen.

Frankly, I think Burrow’s basement is something like Etling. He may not hit his ceiling here, especially this year, but I think he will deliver a baseline competence in an offense that may be more friendly to QB numbers than Canada’s system from last year. Will that be enough to win over the fanbase? Well, it should be.

Right place. Right time. Right person. Burrow isn’t just the future; he is the present.

High End: All-SEC. If the offense is as promised, Burrow could break some LSU records.
Low End: Modest starter, a la Danny Etling.
Realistic: I think he’s a quality starter for the next two seasons and gets drafted. I’m bullish here.