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Playin’ Nice: Cincy Jungle

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Deputy editor of Cincy Jungle John Sheeran joins us to look ahead to Joe Burrow’s rookie season with the Cincinnati Bengals

NFL: NFL Draft USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of April’s NFL Draft LSU added one more piece of history to its claim as best football team of all time. LSU had 14 players selected, tied with 2001 Ohio State for the most selections in a seven-round draft. The Tigers also had five first rounders, the most in school history.

Joe Burrow, of course, was selected first overall by his hometown team the Cincinnati Bengals. We reached out to John Sheeran, deputy editor of Cincy Jungle to talk about what to expect from Burrow in his rookie season.

1. It wasn’t that long ago that the Bengals were a good, if not great, team. The Bengals made the playoffs six out of seven years from 2009-2015. Now they’re picking first in the 2020 draft with a 1-15 record. What caused them to bottom out so drastically?

A string of about five consecutive successful drafts got the Bengals to where they were in the early 2010s. From 2009 to 2013, they added well over a dozen quality starters that represented the foundation of a very talented team. And they did it without spending big in free agency. It was an anomaly, and it didn’t last.

An exodus of talent began in 2016 and carried into 2017, which was when most began to realize the draft classes of 2014 and 2015 ended up being terrible. Instead of compensating for these blows through free agency, they stuck to their frugal ways and held out hope that their young players would develop. Of course, they didn’t, and suddenly ever-dependent Andy Dalton was the quarterback of below average roster. That’s a bad combination to go with a head coach in Marvin Lewis who refused to evolve with the times.

2. Now that Andy Dalton is officially out the door, is this unquestionably Burrow’s team from day one?

Unquestionably. They sold a vision of Burrow leading the rebuild to the free agents they signed this offseason. They’re all in and have no interest in sitting him behind a veteran quarterback.

3. Zac Taylor is from the Sean McVay coaching tree and the Bengals have a pretty talented group of skill position players. How successful of a year could Burrow have with guys like AJ Green and Joe Mixon to work with?

Health is usually the main factor with these questions, but I guess now it’s how this pandemic will impact everything. Assuming the season starts on time, Burrow is objectively in a better situation compared to a place like Miami; a team with less talent at basically every offensive position. Taylor has a good offensive mind that’s based on McVay’s system, and he of course comes from the Shanahan coaching tree. But this offense will be tailored to Burrow’s strengths. 11 personnel with empty protection, utilizing a healthy A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd on those short and intermediate route concepts ala Justin Jefferson while using second-round pick Tee Higgins as a vertical threat ala Ja’Marr Chase. The talent drop off is not as big as some are making it out to be.

4. Realistically, what’s the expectation for Burrow? What would constitute a successful rookie season?

On a more serious note, first-round rookie quarterbacks typically don’t light up the NFL. RGIII and Russell Wilson were the exceptions, they’re not the expectation. Burrow’s going to be thrown into the fire and there will be rough moments, but bright moments will come as well. If the Bengals get an EPA/play and QBR anywhere in the top 20 from Burrow, it will be a successful first season. That may lead to anywhere between 5 and 8 wins, which is also the reasonable expectation for this team.