Derrick Brown is as qualified as anyone when it comes to comparing playing against Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, the two top rated quarterbacks heading into the 2020 NFL Draft.
Brown, the former standout defensive lineman at Auburn, played against both players during his final two seasons with the Tigers. When he was asked if there was something that made one of them stand out over the other, Brown offered a diplomatic answer.
"No, not really," he told NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala during his pro day.
Brown did share a few things that Tua and Burrow have in common that helped make them two of the best players in college football over the past two years.
"I think for both of them, their playmaking ability," said Brown, whose Tigers nearly upset Burrow and LSU in 2019 before upsetting the Crimson Tide in late November, with Tua missing that game with his hip injury. "Every single snap is different. You can't really always get a beat on them all the time. It's something you just gotta go off of. You just got to take it one play at a time."
Tagovailoa and Burrow were the clear Heisman trophy front-runners heading into their Nov. 9 meeting against one another in Tuscaloosa. And while a less than 100% Tagovailoa threw for more yards (410) and touchdowns (four), it was Burrow (who threw for 393 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for 64 yards) and the Tigers that came away with the victory. Tagovailoa suffered the hip injury the very next week, while Burrow went onto lead LSU to their first national championship in a dozen years.
While his draft projection took an initial dip immediately following his injury, Tagovailoa's quick and successful recovery has helped him re-gain his high draft stock. In their two most recent mock drafts, CBS Sports draft analysts Ryan Wilson and Chris Trapasso have projected Tagovailoa going to the Dolphins, who own the fifth overall pick in this year's draft. The Dolphins, if you remember, were being accused of "Tanking for Tua" after trading away several high profile players at the start of the 2019 season. And despite rebounding from a rough start to finish with a 5-11 record, Miami -- which is armed with three first round picks in next month's draft -- is still poised to take Tua, who completed 69.3 percent of his passes with 87 touchdowns and 11 interceptions at Alabama.
While Bengals head coach Zac Taylor coached former Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert to an MVP performance during the Senior Bowl, the Bengals are still expected to draft Burrow, an Athens, Ohio native who started his college career at Ohio State before flourishing at LSU. The 6-foot-4, 216-pound Burrow enjoyed a stellar two seasons with the Tigers, throwing for 8,565 yards with 76 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In 2019, Borrow led the Tigers to a 15-0 record while throwing for 60 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
While their 2-14 record would suggest otherwise, the Bengals do have some solid pieces in place for 2020 and beyond. Cincinnati's offense includes running back Joe Mixon, who has rushed for over 1,100 yards each of the past two seasons. It also includes receiver Tyler Boyd, who set career highs with 90 receptions for 1,046 yards last season. Cincinnati's offense also includes fellow receiver John Ross, who was on pace for his firs 1,000-yard season until missing the second half of the 2019 season with an injury. The Bengals also placed the franchise tag on receiver A.J. Green, giving Burrow yet another weapon if Cincinnati does select him with the first overall pick.
As is the case with many quarterbacks, where they end up will play a role in how successful they are at the next level. But as they get ready to begin the next phase of their careers, Tua and Burrow, at least according to Brown, are on an equal playing field as far as their playing ability is concerned.