How the Cincinnati Bengals could build around Joe Burrow

BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA - NOVEMBER 23: Joe Burrow #9 of the LSU Tigers walks onto the field against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Tiger Stadium on November 23, 2019 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA - NOVEMBER 23: Joe Burrow #9 of the LSU Tigers walks onto the field against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Tiger Stadium on November 23, 2019 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

With the Cincinnati Bengals still holding the top overall pick in the 2020 draft, many are mocking the team to select LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. Here, we look at how they could build around Burrow, if they go that route. 

As the season rolls on, the chances of the Cincinnati Bengals selecting Joe Burrow to be their next franchise quarterback increase. The Heisman front-runner makes a ton of sense for the team. His leadership, anticipation, and accuracy could go a long way in getting the offense to a decent level again.

However, no matter how talented he is, the Bengals need to place him in the right system to experience the kind of success he has put on display during his senior campaign.

The coaching staff and front office should take a similar approach to that of their division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. Their quarterback, Lamar Jackson, put up an insane stat line and won the Heisman trophy during his last season at Louisville.

Despite that, many believed he wouldn’t be a successful NFL quarterback because he didn’t fit any of the current schemes. That didn’t stop the Ravens. They have morphed their entire offensive operation to suit the talent of Jackson. The results of this are an 11-2 record, the current number one seed in the AFC, and MVP considerations. It should be noted that Jackson and the Ravens are an extreme example and molding a system around a quarterback is much easier said than done.

That shouldn’t stop the Bengals from trying to follow Baltimore’s blueprint. Burrow is a rare prospect with a potent mix of skills and attributes. However, the system he’s in maximizes his strengths, much like Jackson in Baltimore.

As is, the Bengals system wouldn’t optimize his skill set. If the team wants Burrow to lead them back to contention, they need to give him support in any way they can. There are many ways to do that. First let’s look at what they already have going for them.

They boast an impressive array of pass catchers when everyone is healthy. The team held on to A.J. Green during the trade deadline. At his peak, Green is a top five receiver in the league. If Green remains a Bengal after the offseason, he is a tremendous safety net for a quarterback.

Beyond that, guys like Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, and Auden Tate are all exciting young players that offer a unique skillset. They would certainly make Burrow’s transition to the NFL smoother.

The coaching staff also employs one of the leagues top quarterback coaches, Alex Van Pelt. Van Pelt oversaw some of Aaron Rodgers’ best seasons. As a former quarterback, he has all the tools and experience to help groom Burrow.

Despite the positives, the Bengals still have work to do. The suggestion above from former player and current NFL analyst, Bucky Brooks, would be a solid start. Joe Brady serves as LSU’s passing game coordinator and has formed a solid partnership with Burrow. As referenced above, he has engineered an offense that has allowed Burrow to emerge in a big way this season. Before that, he spent time under Sean Payton of the Saints, one of the best offensive minds in football

The team has Brian Callahan as its offensive coordinator, but play calling falls on the shoulders of  head coach Zac Taylor. Taylor has struggled calling plays this season, especially in the red zone. That is where hiring Brady as the passing game coordinator could work wonders.

Brady doesn’t call plays 100% of the time for LSU, but he is vital in the decision making process. The LSU assistant could aid Taylor with making play calls in the same way he does with the Tigers.

Burrow and Brady have dominated the college football landscape by running the notorious spread offense. It is not as straight forward as it seems. Sports Illustrated had this to say about the configuration of Brady’s offense,

"“It is not his offense, he says, but is instead a conglomeration of ideas from the staff organized by Ensminger. He’s too modest to tell you that many of the ideas are his, the drop-back passing concepts from Payton and the RPO game from Joe Moorhead. “The majority of stuff I brought is from New Orleans,” he says, but there are other schemes weaved in, including wrinkles from the Kansas City Chiefs.”"

The duo from LSU has taken pieces of the best aspects of the top offenses in all of football. The Bengals would be smart to keep Burrow and Brady together, adopt the scheme they have developed, and let Brady try his hand at NFL play calling. Bringing in Brady would give the team a trio of young and creative coaches, allow Taylor to focus on other aspects, and provide comfort for Burrow.

The scheme change, coaching staff tweaks, and play calling pecking order are all  fundamental changes the Bengals need, but they obviously lack personnel in key areas as well. Despite the plethora of offensive weapons, the offensive line needs to be improved.

Going into 2020, the water is murky for the starting five up front. You can pencil in last year’s first round pick, Jonah Williams at left tackle. Trey Hopkins has been a steady presence at center. So, he will return as well. After a tumultuous season for Cordy Glenn, it looks like tensions have settled. It would make sense for the team to place him back at left guard, where he was slated to start before the injury bug struck.

That leaves holes at the right guard and right tackle position. The team has the option of bringing back this year’s starter, John Miller. who has been a good player for them. They could also lean on Michael Jordan or Billy Price to take the next step in their development. However, an upgrade should at least be explored.

Right tackle is the elephant in the room. Right now, the team doesn’t have anyone capable of adequately filling that spot. An outside addition must be made. Knowing the Bengals, it will probably come via the draft. If they plan on selecting Burrow in the first, it would be wise to take a tackle in the second round.

In addition to securing Burrow more protection, this year’s wide receiver class offers them the ability to add  more talent to their stable at the position. If things fall the right way, they could even reunite Burrow with one of his favorite college targets, Justin Jefferson. All in all, the draft is the most realistic option for the Bengals to fill their personnel deficiencies.

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Burrow is a tremendous talent, there’s no denying that. Still, the burden of pulling the Bengals out of the NFL cellar is too great to potentially lie on just his shoulders. It is going to take change from the entire organization. If they pull the right strings, they have the ammunition to build a solid foundation around Burrow.