The 2020 first overall pick missed a good chunk of last season by no fault of his own, and if he had a quality offensive line that year, he may have been just as good as he is now.
Still, there’s no use in dredging up the past. Burrow is the Bengals’ franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future and he’s done more than enough to warrant his “most improved” distinction in 2021.
Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report recently revealed a list of every NFL team’s most improved player through ten weeks of the season. These are players “who have taken that proverbial next step whether due to natural development, scheme changes or an expanded role,” and they all have seen an uptick in production this season compared to previous seasons.
Knox also chose to focus on veterans specifically, since obviously rookies don’t have past pro seasons to use for comparison.
For the Bengals, Knox picked Burrow as the most improved:
"Let’s be honest. It’s not as if Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was a disappointment as a rookie last season…However, Burrow has been even better this season and has flashed the big-play potential he showcased for the Tigers. The addition of rookie deep threat Ja’Marr Chase has certainly helped, but Burrow is still the one delivering the ball."
Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow wins ‘most improved’ award so far this season
2,497 passing yards. 20 touchdowns. 68.2 percent pass completion percentage.
Burrow is well on track to eclipsing last year’s passing numbers, when he played in 10 games before suffering a season-ending injury.
In 2021, Burrow has seen a few key areas of his passing game improve: he’s recording a slightly higher yards per pass attempt rate, his passer rating has risen about 13 points, and he leads the league in yards per completion (12.8).
Then again, there are also areas that Burrow needs to improve upon, the sooner the better. He’s thrown a league-high 11 picks through 10 weeks, and he could do better in spreading the targets around the Bengals’ crowded receiver room.
His close kinship with Ja’Marr Chase has buoyed him to the top of QB rankings this year, but if he wants to stay there, he’ll need to rely on other pass-catchers, too (cough, Boyd).
For a second-year quarterback, Burrow has grown into his expanded role as the center of dynamic Bengals offense, and with two recent disappointing losses behind him, he should only be getting better.
Forget most improved — it could be “MVP” by the end of the season.